There’s something magical about novels that include a child or teen’s point of view. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter comes to mind immediately, as does Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird and the Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen.
Including a young person’s point of view (POV) isn’t limited to young adult or middle grade genres, however. Adult fiction author Jodi Picoult (Leaving Time) writes these POVs masterfully, as does Sue Monk Kidd (The Invention of Wings), and Susan Meissner (Secrets of a Charmed Life).
Done well, adult novels that includes a young narrator can add richness, depth, and tension to a story. From an author’s point of view, though, it can be particularly tricky to add the voice of a child into the mix. Ask any reader–it’s crucial to capture authenticity through dialogue, personality, and behavior.
In Center of Gravity, I tell a major portion of the story through the eyes of an eight-year old boy. Luckily, as the mom of two wonderful sons, I’ve observed and absorbed much though play dates, car rides, field trips, time at the pool, and conversations over dinner. While writing Center of Gravity, I reflected often about what my boys think about, how they communicate with friends, play, celebrate, and cope with challenges.
1. They offer an honest look at the world around them.
In Center of Gravity, eight-year-old Jack offers a raw and unfiltered view of what happens to his family after his parents’ marriage unravels. He tells the reader about his life in the only way he knows how–simply and honestly–through the lens of an innocent child.
2. They are often the underdog.
It’s difficult not to root for the Harry Potters of the world–a child who’s lost his parents and is forced to live in a cupboard under the stairs. Like Harry, Jack doesn’t have the resources to solve the problems facing his family. Jack can’t jump in a car and escape a bad situation, he doesn’t own a cell phone, and feels powerless to protect his younger brother, Sam. This desperation leads Jack to uncover clues about the past, unknowingly stumbling on secrets that change everything about the world as he knows it.
3. They are idealists.
Like many eight-year olds, Jack idolizes Batman, Spiderman, and Superman–symbols of light in a dark, scary world. During Center of Gravity, Jack often wishes he had the speed of the Flash, Bruce Banner’s intelligence, and Thor’s strength to zap the bad guys in his world into oblivion. Real life soon intervenes, however, helping Jack to discover that true, everyday heroes live among us.
If Jack remained the child he was at the outset of the story, Center of Gravity would have a very different ending. Throughout his journey, Jack must battle his fears, push past his doubts, and seek the truth. Each obstacle in Jack’s path, though seemingly insurmountable, presses him to change and grow–changing his life forever.
5. We’ve all been there.
Though it may have been a decade or three ago, we’ve all experienced the journey from child to grown-up. Many of us have watched, or are watching, our own children on that same path.
Because of that, we, as readers, are often able to envision ourselves sharing these experiences with a young narrator. We relate to that child or teen’s struggles, wants, needs, and values. We feel his or her pain. We rally behind them in times of crisis and celebrate the moments of joy.
We connect. And isn’t that what great novels are all about?
What are your thoughts about child or teen narrators? Do you have any favorites?