Monday, 6 May 2013

Monday Musings: The Right Voice

I wrote a post about six months ago called The Ingredients of a Great Book, where I tried working out what the really important things were in the books I loved most. At that point, I plumped for character as the most important with voice a close second, but the more I think about it, the more I'm veering towards voice.

I'm thinking about the books which have stayed with me the longest, and almost all of the ones I can remember have incredibly strong narrative voices. For the most case, they're in first person - tragic Tessa in Jenny Downham's Before I Die and Lennie, grieving for her sister, in Jandy Nelson's The Sky Is Everywhere being two who immediately sprang to mind.

Interestingly, some of my very favourite narrators have actually been hard to warm to. I nearly put down Meg Rosoff's How I Live Now three or four times in the first seventy pages because I felt out of breath trying to keep up with Daisy's frantic, hyperactive prose, but at some point there it absolutely clicked for me and I was completely hooked. Similarly, the first quarter of Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan had me wondering what all the fuss was about because Dash's super-snarky voice was grating - but once I'd got into it, I loved it so much I bought my sister a copy as part of her Christmas present.

That's not to say, of course, that all my favourite narrators have initially annoyed me. Disfigured Jenna and Ryan, suffering from prejudice against travellers, hooked me from the opening chapters of Laura Jarratt's Skin Deep. Similar dual narratives - a particular favourite type for me - which have pulled me in right from the beginning are Pushing The Limits by Katie McGarry, with the stunning chemistry between damaged teens Echo and Noah, and Cath Crowley's Graffiti Moon, with similarly wonderful chemistry between feisty Lucy and artistic Ed. Then, there's Maddie and Verity in Elizabeth Wein's breathtaking Code Name Verity. (Regular readers KNOW why I don't say anything about CNV except "Buy it now!")

Moving to single narrators, Hayley Long's Lottie Biggs, struggling to cope with some rather serious mental health problems, is one I absolutely loved, as are Sam, in comin 2 gt u by Simon Packham, terrified of the person or people who are bullying him, Chris in Silenced, by Simon Packham, talking to his dead friend but nobody else, and Jess, in Firewallers, by... oh, yeah, Simon Packham. (I'm saying little about Firewallers as it's not out yet, but it's a must read!) As impressive as Packham's ability to write completely convincing voices for new characters in each novel is, though, Daniela Sacerdoti does this several times in the course of the same novel. Dreams and Tide, the first two in the Sarah Midnight series, are mainly in third person but bounce us into the heads of various characters for first person segments. It's a fascinating style which pays off because she voices them all, particularly the two love interests for Sarah, so brilliantly.

Speaking of fascinating styles, the most fascinating of all is surely Jaclyn Moriarty's, whose characters in her Ashbury/Brookfield series communicate with the reader using everything from letters to diary entries to exam transcripts. Her Feeling Sorry For Celia, Finding Cassie Crazy, and Dreaming of Amelia are three of my very favourite contemporary YA novels of recent years.

Of course, not every writer I think has a stunning voice is writing in first person. when it comes to third person, I have a real weakness for the less serious stuff. The Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars series both hooked me with their deliciously acidic narration, while one of the most bizarrely brilliant books I've read so far this year is Yelena Black's Dance of Shadows, of which the last six chapters are incredibly quotable. Then there's the books where the narrator is indescribable, for whatever reason - Natasha Farrant's fabulous The Things We Did For Love being the one which springs to mind right now.

Which books, or authors, stand out to you as having truly superb voices? Leave me a comment, I'd love to know!


  1. I'm really glad you mentioned Jacyln Moriarty's books because I was only thinking yesterday how well-written they are. I loved the Ashbury novels.

    Skin Deep is another favourite of mine- I love the way Laura writes.

    I must add a few of these books to my wishlist now. :)

  2. I'm so glad to see Jaclyn Moriarty on this list! I love her Asbury/Brookfield series!! It's absolutely wonderfully written and some of the best characterisation I've seen

    Cait x