5 Stand-Out Unreliable Narrators in Young Adult Lit

Kate A. Boorman, author of What We Buried, lists some of her favorite unreliable narrators in the YA genre!

I have a thing for unreliable narrators. I’m suspicious of polarities, of the black and white, and I tend to gravitate toward the grey area where, ironically, not-completely-trustworthy characters reside. I think I’m drawn to them because I see myself there. Not because I’m hiding bodies (or am I?) or because I lie compulsively (or do I?), but because it’s difficult to be truthful with yourself. None of us are perfect historians; our egos and penchants make an unbiased recollection of an event—particularly when that event is personal—practically impossible. And whether the narrator is hiding some key detail from us or themselves, or leading us on a bit of a wild goose chase on purpose and testing our ability to detect their inconsistencies, I read for the gut-punching revelation.

I write and read young adult literature because I love the tension inherent in that particular time of life. Young adult stories are full of characters with passionate aspirations who do not have full agency to act. When the story includes a character who is not giving us the whole story, by circumstance or by choice, so much the better.

Here are five stand-out examples:

 

Allegedly by Tiffany D Jackson

Mary B. Addison killed a baby. Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: a white baby had died while under the care of a churchgoing black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it? 

Childhood trauma and complicated relationships surround this dark mystery, set at a juvenile offenders’ halfway house. Mary has a compelling voice that shifts in an ingeniously subtle way as the story progresses, leading to the stunning conclusion.

 

 

With Malice by Eileen Cook

Premise: Eighteen-year-old Jill Charron’s senior trip to Italy was supposed to be the adventure of a lifetime. And then the accident happened. Waking up in a hospital room, her leg in a cast, stitches in her face, and a big blank canvas where the last 6 weeks should be, Jill comes to discover she was involved in a fatal accident in her travels abroad. She was jetted home by her affluent father in order to receive quality care. Care that includes a lawyer. And a press team. Because maybe the accident…wasn’t an accident.

Jill’s hospitalization and her slowly-surfacing memories of her trip to Italy are interspersed with interview transcripts, witness statements, and social media content, creating an intriguing puzzle. The mystery knits together effortlessly… but in a way, you won’t see coming.

 

Sadie by Courtney Summers

Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water. But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meager clues to find him.

The narration is split between Sadie’s POV and transcripts from a true crime podcast about her disappearance, and the dual narration suggests Sadie isn’t telling us everything. Gritty and powerful, it’s a harrowing and deeply-satisfying read. (Read a Q&A with Courtney Summers here!)

 

Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn

Andrew Winston Winters is at war with himself. He’s part Win, the lonely teenager exiled to a remote Vermont boarding school in the wake of a family tragedy. The guy who shuts all his classmates out, no matter the cost. He’s part Drew, the angry young boy with violent impulses that control him. The boy who spent a fateful, long-ago summer with his brother and teenage cousins, only to endure a secret so monstrous it led three children to do the unthinkable. 

A psychological mystery with spare, gorgeous prose that you tear through in an effort to figure out what’s going on with Win; a complicated boy who is adamant about impending disaster. Complex and twisty, with a heart-breaking revelation.

 

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

Everyone knows Bone Gap is full of gaps—gaps to trip you up, gaps to slide through so you can disappear forever. So when young, beautiful Roza went missing, the people of Bone Gap weren’t surprised. After all, it wasn’t the first time that someone had slipped away and left Finn and Sean O’Sullivan on their own…  Finn knows that’s not what happened with Roza. He knows she was kidnapped, ripped from the cornfields by a dangerous man whose face he cannot remember. But the searches turned up nothing, and no one believes him anymore. Not even Sean, who has more reason to find Roza than anyone, and every reason to blame Finn for letting her go.

 This genre-defying story is told from several character’s perspectives. One of these is Finn, a uniquely unreliable narrator who, as the sole witness to the crime, seems to hold a critical piece of the puzzle. Tense, lyrical, and fantastically strange in the best possible way.

What are some other stand-out unreliable narrators in the YA genre? Let us know in the comments and enter to win a copy of What We Buried!


Comment below for a chance to win a copy of What We Buried by Kate A. Boorman!

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Comments

  1. Mikalyn Manzanares

    These books all sound great. I’ve read Sadie and I liked it.

    • Kay Story

      Thank you for your views on YA and giving me a reading list that sounds intriguing.

  2. kim hansen

    All new authors for me.

  3. Jennifer Terry

    These books all look great!

  4. keelz23

    I loved Sadie, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower is another classic!

  5. Linda A Gawthrop

    Thanks for the helpful and informed tips – will add them to my own TBR list!

  6. Jayne Homsher

    Looks good and scary too! Kate Boorman sounds like a really good author to get to know through her writings.

  7. Alyssa Weinzapfel

    I love Sadie and Bone Gap.

  8. Susan T.

    Allegedly was excellent! I have Sadie on my list next!

  9. carloshmarlo

    I think one of the most striking U.N.s would be the character Jack from Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club. Thanks for the chance to win a copy of What We Buried. Hey! I used to live in Calgary, Hi neighbour!

  10. Mehva r Roffman

    have read some of these will check out the others would love to read your new book and will review it of course

  11. Kayla Kimball

    I love reading YA books! I’ve read a few listed here!

  12. Alexandra Dekany

    All of these books seem to be very interesting.

  13. Theresa Blundell

    These all sound amazing!

  14. Keisha Brown
    • Tekeisha Brown

      Put my email in the wrong place🙄🙄😂

  15. Kelesea Fidler

    That cover though! So spooky!

  16. Becky Shemeley

    Sadie wa a great YA read~! I look forward to checking out What We Buried. Ihe cover is drawing me in!

  17. Tekeisha Brown

    I have not read any of these books, but they are all going on my list. I have heard great things about Allegedly and it is the next book on my reading list.

  18. Lacy B

    I thought Sadie was great and I have Allegedly on my shelf.

  19. joel timmons

    These. 5. Writers. Are. Awesomeness

  20. Sabrina Zehner

    A few must reads to add to the to be read pile for sure.

  21. Elena

    These are some good recommendations! I love YA and I am excited for this one =)

  22. Andrea Trenary

    I have some of those on my tbr.

  23. Christine Smiga

    These all look very good!

  24. Jennifer Ingman

    I appreciate an unreliable narrator too! I’ve read Sadie and have taken note of the other four books. Thank you for the recommendations.

  25. Nancy

    Good suggestions. I was thinking of We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, and Shirley Jackson’s classic We Have Always Lived at the Castle.

  26. Diana Seay

    All these books sound interesting. I can’t wait to read them.

  27. Danielle Hammelef

    Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.

  28. P.J. Coldren

    Any YA books I win will be donated to my local charter school library . . .because they need them. Thanks for the chance to win.

  29. Theresa

    Stories with unreliable narrators are my favorite kind to read.
    Some YA books with unreliable narrators that I really like are:
    The Mara Dyer series by Michelle Hodkin,
    Hysteria by Megan Miranda, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, The Walls around Us by Nova Ren Suma

  30. Emma Shetler

    I read Sadie and LOVED it! I want to read Allegedly now too! Actually, I need to read ALL of these! Thanks for the great post!

  31. Amanda Scott

    These look good!

  32. Sher Kurwa

    Sounds amazing! I would love to read it! Love YA!

  33. Angie Simmonds

    Sadie and Allegedly both look good. I have no books to add to your list because I’m just starting to read Young Adult books. I’m really enjoying them. The genre is not at all what I thought it would be!

  34. Kathie Craig

    I have some catching up to do. When you enjoy a series it’s like missing an old friend.

  35. Tricia

    I am also a fan of the unreliable narrator. I’m glad I have a few of your faves on my to-read shelf already! I think The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin would fit in well with this bunch.

  36. Beth Fahl

    Milly in Good Me Bad Me is fantastically unreliable.

  37. Mary Costea

    Good me bad me was good.

  38. Mary Costea

    Love YA.

  39. L

    A very good sounding reading list. Lots of people seem to like Sadie, which does sound good. I particularly liked the sound of Bone Gap, too. Unreliable narrators are lots of reading fun!

  40. Linda McCutcheon

    Charm and Strange is giving me Fight Club vibes. I want to check it out because a fight Club had the most unreliable narrator in my opinion.

  41. Katy Nowoswiat

    More to add to my reading list! Love a good YA book.

  42. Colleen Burns

    My two of favorite unreliable YA narrators are from books on this list- Sadie and With Malice. I also really liked We Were Liars by E. Lockhart.

  43. Destiny Whirlwind-Soldier

    Fight Club, Atonement, Before I Go To Sleep

  44. Christina McComiskie

    I want to read them all. Adding them to my TBR

  45. Serena

    A really great list of books!

  46. Kimberly Dull

    I love stories that keep me guessing!

  47. Charity Frye

    We Were Liars by e. Lockhart is another interesting read with an unreliable narrator! I barely knew what was happening throughout the story or what was true or fake. I love the twists and turns of unreliability.

  48. Dianna Young

    Mysteries are one my favorites. And these are new to me.

  49. vhowery

    Would love to read.

  50. Daniel M

    looks like a fun bunch

  51. Amanda Wilcox

    Thanks for the opportunity!

  52. ViolinGeek

    Yay for YA! Can’t wait to read them, they are waiting in my pile!

  53. Rena

    My older kids have read a couple of these books. I too love unreliable narrators.

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