Sunday, June 1, 2014
Reading Like a Writer: Studying First-person Point of View with WE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart & IMAGINARY GIRLS by Nova Ren Suma
I just finished reading WE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart and IMAGINARY GIRLS by Nova Ren Suma. Both books were fantastic and I highly recommend them to any reader, especially to those who enjoy suspenseful twisty novels with a surreal edge and beautiful writing. As a writer, I totally lucked out because they also ended up being perfect companion novels for studying first-person point of view.
Both stories are about damaged girls who can’t totally recall a traumatic past experience. This event is slowly revealed by skillful and meticulous use of first-person point of view. The reveals at the end come across as twists, but an extremely careful reader can see them coming or at least make a gut level guess at what will eventually be discovered. However, despite these similarities, main characters’ points of view in these two books are uniquely their own and don’t resemble each other—which is why I recommend studying them as companion novels. It’s cool to see how two highly skilled authors create totally different novels from the same core and several similar elements. For example: water and swimming are important elements in both stories but they are interpreted and experienced differently by each of the main characters—aka different POVs.
Actually, I had purchased IMAGINARY GIRLS after taking Nova Ren Suma’s workshop on crafting first-person voice at this year’s NESCBWI conference, so I did have an idea it was good for this specific study topic. I read the book slowly, noting what the main character experienced as shown through her senses, how she recalled and interpreted the past, and how she reacted to those things, basically how the world of the story was revealed through a prospective that was uniquely hers. I did the same thing as I read WE WERE LIARS. Both books have a surreal bend and that made slow reading particularly vital. The nuances could have been easily overlooked. Well, that is pretty much what makes the books work: pace drives the reader forward and makes it easy to not see specific details as significant until they come up again at the story’s end. I also resisted reading the end ahead of time, not an easy feat for me.
I’m not going to say anything more because I don’t want to ruin the stories for people who haven’t read them. But, if you’re interested in studying point of view (more specifically first-person), then read these books slowly, soak in the word choices, the tiny details of the world and other aspects that make the point of view unique to their main characters. Or read them fast, enjoy the ride and the jolts when the twists hit—then go back and reread. Just don’t miss WE WERE LIARS or IMAGINARY GIRLS. They’re wonderful.