As a Squirrel Girl superfan, I was cautiously intrigued by Shannon and Dean Hale’s middle grade novel The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World. I had fallen in love with this plucky comics superhero, as depicted by Ryan North and Erica Henderson, but I didn’t know if I would enjoy her story as much without that graphic component, and I didn’t know how anyone could possibly pull off North’s perfectly-pitched sense of humor. Then a friend bought me a copy for Christmas and, as soon as I made it to Chapter 3, which was narrated by Tippy-Toe, I was all in.
It’s not just that I adore Tippy-Toe, Squirrel Girl’s partner-in-nut-fueled-heroism (who is a squirrel, by the way, for those not in the know). Rather, I loved the way that the Hales gave voice and dimension to a character whose communications I’d only ever seen interpreted by others. The result? Delightful!
When I thought about it, I realized this wasn’t the first time I’d been charmed by an offbeat and unconventional narrator. Here are several other quirky protagonists I’ve enjoyed, plus a few more books that seem worth picking up solely based upon the unorthodox narrator(s).
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
When I tried to remember the last time I’d experienced a one-of-a-kind narrator, this was the first book to enter my mind. Though the narrator is a human, she’s also deceased. This book sees her spirit grappling with the fact of her demise. Full story aside, it’s the way she opens the narrative that makes readers realize immediately that this won’t be your average suspense novel.
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
People repeatedly recommended this book to me and I repeatedly ignored them because I thought it sounded schmaltzy, it seemed overhyped, and besides, I’m a cat person. (The narrator is a dog.) But then someone passed their copy along to me, so I had no choice but to read it, and I ended up getting very emotional about this story of a dog and the owner for whom he cares very deeply. Moral of the story: I should stop being such a presumptuous snot.
My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk
While searching for new books I might read that feature offbeat narrators, I came upon this one, which contains a collection of the most bizarre narrators I’ve ever heard of, including a coin, a dog, the corpse of a murdered man, and even the color red. This mystery is told based upon what each of these objects witnessed.
Delicious Foods by James Hannaham
This book is described as the story of a mother, her son, and the drug that threatened to destroy them, which is almost too neat. That Hannaham chooses to have crack cocaine narrate part of this heartbreaking story—even going so far as to give it a name (Scotty)—is brilliant, and makes the drug’s hold on the dependent protagonist that much more visceral.
Nutshell by Ian McEwan
When you start a conversation about offbeat narrators, it seems everyone points to McEwan’s most recent novel. Nutshell is narrated by the unborn baby of a woman who—along with her lover—formulates a plan to murder her fetus’s father.
Which narrators have you come across that have totally boggled and blown your mind?