Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen and The State of Grace by Rachael Lucas (#OwnVoices) are two books that hit my head and heart. Nielsen’s is the story of a once-happy teen who blames herself for the death of her infant sister. Lucas’ is the story of a girl with Asperger’s and a complicated family life.
I’m a sucker for first-person, the narrative voice of both books. What I love about first-person is the feeling that our narrators are talking to us as close friends. As friends, we tend to believe them and to treat their foibles with generosity. We’re also set up for surprises, as we inevitably discover their blind spots.
Petula in Optimists Die First and Grace in The State of Grace are wonderful friends to have. Both are chatty, unguarded, and very funny. Their sense of humour sustains them, and us, as we navigate their pains and frustrations. They’re also hilarious when taking themselves too seriously by half: a true case of us being able to laugh with our friends, rather than at them.
First-person novels are essentially extended dramatic monologues, and Nielsen and Lucas are superb with dialogue. We hear the humanity of their narrators in every sentence. This is especially valuable as both narrators are out of the mainstream. We get to see, hear, and feel the world from a viewpoint different than our own.
Jo asked if I could comment on any connection I might have to the books I’m recommending. So, sure. I’m on the medicated, but lower end, of the OCD spectrum and, despite being able to perform on stage, have panic and social anxiety disorders. What I appreciate about both Optimists Die First and The State of Grace is that their narrators as full human beings. Neither is an issue book ‘about’ the spectrum. Rather their narrators simply have it as part of their lives.
- Allan Stratton, author of The Way Back Home and The Dogs
Thank you, Allan, for the recommendations! I still have Optimists Die First - which features anxiety - to read, but I'm really looking forward to it!
Do check out Allan's website, find him on Facebook, and check out his new novel, The Way Back Home!
The Way Back Home by Allan Stratton
(4th May 2017, Anderson Press)
Zoe Bird is going nowhere fast. She’s angry and lonely, and her only true friend is her granny, whose Alzheimer’s is worsening. When her parents put Granny in a home, Zoe decides now is the time to break free. She smuggles Granny out and together they hit the tracks on a cross-country trip to find Zoe’s long-lost uncle. But there will be some home truths along the way. . .
An emotional story about family, surviving school and being true to yourself for fans of The Art of Being Normal and Unbecoming From Goodreads.