Book Recommendations: Powerful Characters and Their Worlds

Madeline Poage ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Two aspects of a book can be particularly gripping—the world, and the characters that inhabit it. These are some of the best, making them an unforgettable read.

Wicked by Gregory Maguire

Enter Oz, the place of childhood fantasy, only with a heavy dose of harsh reality injected in. This is no whimsical world of the Wizard for children, but a dystopian political and social commentary ruled with an iron tyrannical will. The familiar characters that enter and exit the story are developed with backstories that make for fun Easter eggs, but it’s the land of Oz that really comes alive—a country with polarizing religious conflict, a crumbling economic system, racially charged rhetoric, and a yellow brick public amenities project. And the reader follows Elphaba, an unloved but passionate activist with green skin, down the rabbit hole into a vivid and crushing world of political intrigue, genocidal metaphors, and the one question that no one can seem to answer—what is evil?

Tricksters series by Tamora Pierce

In the medieval world of Tamora Pierce, Aly, daughter of a lady knight and a king of thieves, struggles to figure out where she belongs until a Trickster god decides for her and places her in the heart of a rebellion, in a maelstrom of social and political unrest. While the action and the underhanded scheming keeps the story moving and the characters stay fresh, the previously unexplored area of Tamora Pierce’s imagination is what keeps the books captivating. The story is one of two cultures clashing and this really comes through in the details that ground the setting in familiar reality and immerse the characters in the new world.

The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud

He didn’t come out of a magic lamp, but Bartimaeus is a genie, or djinni, through and through. A 5,000 year old creature who is sick and tired of being forced to obey the will of tyrannical magicians, Bartimaeus is defined primarily by his voice—witty, sarcastic, and almost too bitter to swallow. It’s him and his ideal foil, a warped and morally ambiguous boy magician, Nathaniel, who drive the three books. Stroud sets them up perfectly, pitting them in a battle of wills as they are forced to help each other in an alternate universe where magic rules the government and murderous intrigue and corruption is common. Roles are swapped, where the djinni is center stage, the victim, and the magicians are the villains. Despite being a children’s series, the books confidently delve into darker territory as morality, the struggle between freedom and slavery, and the importance of perspective are explored all through the lenses of two completely different, yet extraordinary characters.

The Long Walk by Stephen King, writing as Richard Bachman

Written under a pen name and still one of Stephen King’s most underrated tales, The Long Walk takes place in a mysterious dystopian and military-controlled society where 100 boys enter a contest to walk the length of the northeast. The rules? Don’t stop walking. The last boy walking wins the ultimate prize, but despite the relatively simple premise, it’s the characters that turn this into a jewel in King’s crown. In a situation where standing as an individual is key, the boys do the opposite and band together, forming friendships that, in the face of imminent death, prove their worth. Each boy King focuses on is distinctive, with a voice, personality, and philosophy that creates a compelling and haunting cast of characters that one by one, are whittled down. Death isn’t just nipping at their heels, it’s catching their ankles and while the boys are doomed from the starting line, the readers have no choice but to follow them to the finish.

Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going

In the eclectic underground music scene of New York City, fall into the thoughts of Troy Billings. Troy is an overweight suicidal teen, Curt McCrae an emaciated, semi-homeless punk rocker. Friends? Kind of. A dynamic duo that runs wild through this raw and energetic novel? Much more accurate. Couple them with a strict ex-military father and a snotty younger brother and that’s the cast. Is this starting to sound like a cliché? Probably. But just when it looks like all the characters can be pegged, can be neatly categorized into little stereotypical boxes, they defy all YA formulas to create a funny, heartfelt story that crashes together in an arresting and profound analysis of family, friends, and adulthood. Each character is memorable, but it’s the relationships between them—all of them—that strike at the emotional core.

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