One thing that’s really important to me as I’m reading a book is whether or not I can identify with the protagonist. It’s not necessarily that they need to be exactly like me or anything, but I have to be able to relate to them, to understand why they do the things they do. The better I understand them and feel connected with them, the more I will enjoy a book.
And I feel like that’s a pretty common thing among readers, or really in any story. Movies, songs, whatever.
But when I can closely identify with several of the characters … magic.
Perfect example, Harry Potter. Most bookish people identify most strongly with Hermione out of the main trio, and I especially identify with first-book-Hermione. She was made fun of, loved school, followed rules to a T. All me. However, I think for many young girls Ginny of the early books was so relatable! Her crush on Harry was one-sided and juvenile. She couldn’t even look at Harry without blushing, and everything she did around him just made her look uncool. What middle school girl can’t relate to that?! Then, in book 5, Luna Lovegood made an appearance. She’s probably one of the most popular characters in the series, universally loved. I think it’s because people see themselves in her. They feel just as odd as she is on the inside, and they admire that she isn’t ashamed of herself.
I think that as readers we love to be able to connect with all of the characters. It’s why those silly buzzfeed quizzes (Which Friends character are you?) were so popular for a while. We relate to all of them, so we can’t decide which one we are the most like! (For the record, I’m a Monica/Ross mix.)
For me it’s really special when a book grows with me. When as a young person I related to the young characters, and now as an adult I relate to the adult characters.
I’ll go back to Harry Potter. As a mom, Mrs. Weasley is everything. She loves her kids but she gets exasperated with them. She wants to give them the best of everything, but often has to make difficult sacrifices. Her greatest fear is that something will happen to her family. You guys, my boggart has 100% changed from spiders to my kids’ death. These days, Mrs. Weasley is my favorite character.
I was watching The Great American Read on PBS last week (Wait, what? I’ve NEVER talked about this before!), and a man talked about this very idea. They were interviewing him about To Kill a Mockingbird, and he talked about how as a child he identified with Scout. Curious, adventurous, and with a strong sense of justice. But as he grew, as he saw the young men around him getting into trouble (often for things they hadn’t done), he started to identify more and more with Tom Robinson, the accused.
For me it’s Little Women. I think most young women identify with Jo. She’s spunky, speaks her mind, has big dreams, and isn’t afraid to chase them. She makes mistakes and learns from them. She loves passionately. Jo is an amazing protagonist. But as I’ve gotten older and settled down in my life (sort of…), I now relate more strongly with her older sister, Meg. I love the scenes where Marmie has to help Meg settle conflicts in her marriage, or teaches her about the more difficult points of being a mom. Through Meg I learned to understand and accept that adulting is hard, and that it’s okay (and normal!) to still ask my parents for help.
How about you? Are there any books that have grown with you in that way? Which are your favorite books where you can relate to lots of the characters?