Allison's Book Bag

Reflection on Fiction Featuring Misfits

Posted on: November 1, 2013

One month and ten selections after launching my round-up on misfit kids and troubled teens, I feel as if I have barely touched the surface of the books on the topic. Soon into my research, I discovered the need to limit my focus, and so didn’t explore literature featuring delinquent and incarcerated teens. Next, as I moved forward into my launch, I stumbled across additional recommendations from featured authors who had created their own lists of books to read on the subject. Moreover, as I read the selections themselves, other examples which I had heard of or encountered came to mind such as Blubber by Judy Blume and other young adult fiction from that time period. As I’m only on my second revision of my novel, another round-up may lay in my future.


The books for my round-up fell into all three reading levels: primary, intermediate, and young adult. The two on the primary level are actually poetry collections, famous for their inclusion of naughty kids and less than delicate subject matter. Of the three intermediate books, all are of varying topics and length. One is about an accidental death, another about a bully, and the third is about kids whose fascination with death borders on being suicidal. The shortest didn’t even reach one hundred pages while the longest ran well over two-hundred pages. The remaining five books are young adult books and again an eclectic mix. One book is about how a lie about a crime can have serious repercussions, another is about the dark and challenging topic of dumpster babies, a third explores promiscuity, and the remaining two books face the prevalent and timely topic of teen shootings from the viewpoint of the guilty. One ran about two-hundred pages, while the rest reached three or even four-hundred pages. Of the ten books I read, four received my highest rating, only one received my lowest rating, and the rest fell into the bulky middle.


As I noted when I launched this round-up, my interest in doing this round-up didn’t really lay with discovering the traits of misfit and troubled kids. That said, each book did inspire new insights for how to portray my own misfits. The poetry books gave me ideas about innocent mischief young people might create, while Veronica Ganz helped me understand how bullying might get justified. On the flip side, On My Honor reminded me of how easy it is to make the choice to cover-up out of fear and how difficult it is to confess the truth out of fear. The young adult books explored bad choices from a variety of angles. A character might  inadvertently set events into motion, deliberately chose to the wrong path, or try to deny or justify his/her action. In any event, the emotional life will be complex.

As for how authors structured their novel, the true point of my research, the choices were as plentiful as raindrops. None of them seemed to be particularly right or wrong either, even if I enjoyed some books more than others. Let’s start with the juvenile fiction. On My Honor starts off innocently enough with two boys arguing about a dare, but even here readers know the dare will lead to disaster. The other two juvenile novels jump right into the heart of their story, one showing a bullying incident and the other showing the game of Death. On My Honor takes a straightforward path, having the boys take a bike ride, stop to swim, and face an accident. From there, the main character tries to run away from, cover up, and deny his knowledge of the accident. Kit’s Wilderness instead pursues a complicated path. The story is about the Game of Death. It’s also about the aging of Kit’s grandfather. And, it’s about Askew, who seems bent on destruction.  Author David Almond interweaves all of these plots into a riveting and literary tale, which one should read a few times to completely understand. As for Veronica Ganz, it too explores multiple subplots, but they felt more disjointed. Such is the challenge of layering one’s story.

As for the young adult fiction, the type I seem most often to write, I had two favorites. Freeze Frame keeps one in suspense, holding back information about whether or not the main character is guilty, until about three-quarters into the book. As such, it had me biting my nails with anxiety. Story of a Girl lays the situation right out there in the first paragraph. Readers immediately find out that the main character had sex at age thirteen. The rest of the book is about how that action changed her life and that of her family. Despite the total opposite approach of each author, I equally appreciated both books.

Then there were the three books which fell into the middle. In After, the main character denies her guilt until far into the book, and I found myself wishing she could just come clean. Yet what if she had? This might have lessened the impact of the pivotal moment, when she finally accepted the seriousness of her actions. In Hate List, the main character accepts her part in setting in motion a crime but doesn’t feel enough remorse and so again I found myself sometimes wishing she would just move forward. Yet what if she had? Again, this might have lessened the impact of the pivotal moment, when she decided to work with her classmates to create a tribute for those who died during a school shooting.

Finally, there’s Harmless, which combined both approaches. Readers know from the start that the girls lied about a crime, but we don’t know the dark secret which one of the girls keeps to herself. It’s the only one of the five young adult books I read which didn’t immediately jump into the heart of their story, but instead provides almost too much background about the girls involved in the crime.

When each author used a different approach, but wrote appealing fiction, what can I learn about structure? Only that I need to pick the approach which will best tell my unique story.


For convenient reference, all the posts related to my round-up of fiction featuring misfit kids and troubled teens are listed below. If you know of others, please note them in a comment.


You Read To Me, I’ll Read To You by John Ciardi

A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein


Kit’s Wilderness by David Almond

On My Honor by Marion Bauer

Veronica Ganz by Marilyn Sachs


Freeze Frame by Heidi Ayarbe

Hate List by Jennifer Brown

After by Amy Efaw

Harmless by Dana Reinhardt

Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr

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