This is a short and powerful book – is it really all that surprising that much of the story is driven by its characters? This is the story of Mia as she tries to decide whether she wants to stay behind in her destroyed life or move on with her killed parents and little brother, but it’s just as much about telling the story of her family as she tries to decide. Yes, there is romance, but for me the big draw of this book was always the family, Mia’s family, both alive and dead, visible through touching and heart-breaking flashbacks as well as scenes happening while Mia is in limbo.
This choice is a little different from the rest because this is a much more fluffy contemporary book, but I think it still applies. The big point of this book was about Gigi and her two best friends, Neerja and Bea, learning to get over their fears and doing what they want and making the most of their high school experience. There’s plenty of romance and friendship and humor, but their growth is such a big part of the book as well and I think that means that this is totally a character-driven book as well, and one that’s a bit different from the rest of my list.
As I write this back in September, I just finished this book yesterday, and when I was trying to come up with books for this list, I just knew that I had to include this. Saving Francesca is about Francesca learning to deal with her mother’s depression as well as figuring out who she is and what kind of friends are best for her – the ones who help me fit in or the ones that bring her out of her shell and show the world that she really isn’t a shy, quiet girl at all. This book was just as much about Francesca’s mother dealing with her depression as it was Francesca dealing with it, so it was great to see the whole family trying to figure out how to deal with such a difficult and complicated and terrifying disease like depression.
This is another unusual choice; I figured that most people, like me, would focus on contemporary books for this topic, so I wanted to think outside the box at least once – which is why I decided to include this paranormal book about angels on the list as well. Hallowed is the second book in the Unearthly trilogy by Cynthia Hand, and it was the best and most emotional book in the series for me. In it, main character Clara has to deal with an upcoming tragedy, and it shapes her life as well as the other people around her. She has to grow and learn to adapt and figure out how to live her life after this tragedy, and to me that’s very much the definition of a character-driven book, even if there is angel drama mixed in.
For these topics, I always try to find some new titles I haven’t used over and over again, but I keep finding myself coming back to the same favorites because they just seem to work for some many different topics. Ruby Oliver is one of those – this quartet of books is about Ruby Oliver learning to accept herself and her life without having more panic attacks. It’s a long journey, and she has to deal with many changing relationships over the four books, but that’s what makes this such a great example of a character-driven series.
This is another short and powerful book, this time dealing with weight and body image issues. It’s sad but true that we live in a society that rarely allows women to feel comfortable in their own bodies. If you’re large, then you’re fat and undesirable and not “beautiful,” but if you’re really thin, you’ll probably have to deal with accusations of being stuck-up and anorexic. If you’re comfortable with who you are, then you’re vain and narcissistic, and if you already don’t like yourself, society is much more likely to point out even more flaws than comfort you. This book is about an overweight girl who has a very thin and food-obsessed mother, and it shows the two ends of the spectrum – eating too much and not eating enough – and shows how people on both ends of the spectrum can feel pretty much the same.
Sarah Dessen’s novels come up a lot in general when you’re talking about contemporary books, so it’s probably not all that surprising that I picked one of her books for this contemporary-saturated list. This was the very first Sarah Dessen book I ever read, which means it has a special place in my heart, and I think it definitely works for this category. The main character lost her father before the book began, and she’s stuck in a “perfect daughter and girlfriend” role in the beginning that she has to shed and examine on her own as she figures out who she is and what she wants.
Emily began this book as a very shy person who needed her best friend by her side in order to bounce off of her and not have to be in the spotlight – which is a lot like I am, which is why I connected with this book so much. The book, therefore, is about her journey to figure out who she is as a single person rather than “Sloane’s best friend,” and that involves a lot of growing and changing and difficulty, but it’s ultimately the best thing for Emily, and it’s a joy to read about – it makes me want to go out and do her list as well, but I think I’d have to find such great friends as Emily does to help me out first.
For me, the real life people that Laurel writes to are real characters in the stories just as much as the fictional people in her life. I know that they’re real people of course, people like Judy Garland and Amy Winehouse and River Phoenix, but they felt like true characters as well, written just for the story. That’s why I think this beautifully-written book definitely fits the character-driven bill.
Family dramas are some of my favorite things to read, and this book was no exception. The protagonist was kidnapped from her family by her mother when she was young, so her return to her family as a teenager is complicated and difficult and wonderful and painful to read about. She, along with the rest of her family, has to learn how to adjust and grow into a new person who just might be at home with the family that mourned her while she experienced difficult and painful things on the run.