Richard Papen in The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Who, at one point or another, has not struggled with the harsh difference between fantasy and reality? The image and the fact? What we want and what is there? Richard Papen knows all too well of the distinction. A fresh-faced undergrad, he arrives at university with a new zeal for life after his barren upbringing in Plano, California. Fortunately for us he brings with him his fatal flaw – a desire for all things beautiful. He aches for life to be romantic whatever the cost (and boy, does it cost him!) An all too human character, carved with certainty and distinction as if from marble, by perhaps our most talented living author.
Adrian Mole in The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend
Top dog on the teen narrative front, Adrian is the perma-adolescent whose suburban grandiosity not only captures what it is to be young and misunderstood, but also acts as a vessel for the ever-erudite Townsend to hit every one of her targets with a marksman’s precision. Sex, gender, class and politics; every aspect of modern life is nailed perfectly here, often in just one sentence. An untouchable work of comic genius. Useful Life Tip: be wary of anybody unable to recite great swathes of The Secret Diary, for they cannot be trusted.
Unknown in The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
This time we never quite know who the narrator is – a nameless member of the Greek chorus that idolises, chronicles, and ultimately eulogises the mythical Lisbon girls. The sisters’ inevitable annihilation is described, with devastating empathy, as “simply their refusal to accept the world as it had been handed down to them – so full of flaws.” And whilst our narrator does not meet an end as dramatic as his doomed beauties, there is no doubt about it – childhood has left an indelible mark on him, one he will never fully understand, and never truly escape.
Jason Taylor in Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
Adolescence can often feel like nothing more than a glut of emotion and desire which we have neither the vocabulary nor the ability to articulate without choking/ tripping/fumbling or stuttering. David Mitchell perfectly realises this by tapping into his own experience of a speech impediment with Jason, the young hero of Black Swan Green, whose childhood he chronicles with beauty and lightness. A wonderful book and a fine estuary from YA to adult literature in the capable hands of one of our finest authors.
Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye, by JD Salinger
Worth including for the explanation of the title alone. The story goes – for those that haven’t read it – that Holden, a troubled, uncertain youth in psychiatric freefall, has a recurring dream in which he is deep within a field of rye, perched on a cliff’s edge, and finds himself responsible for saving a swarm of playing children from falling over the edge. Right there, in that passage, is the crux of every book ever written for or about adolescence; the certainty of youth colliding, head-on, with the hugeness and volatility of adulthood. A classic, a bore, a misanthrope heartthrob, and utterly invaluable to the genre, no matter how you feel about him.
Matthew Crow’s In Bloom is published by Much-in-Little.