Credit: Amor Towles/Penguin Random House
There are many memorable kids and teens in literature, and I’m going to discuss a few of them in a blog post so young it was born on January 29, 2023. 🙂
A terrific non-adult character I most recently encountered is 8-year-old Billy Watson in Amor Towles’ The Lincoln Highway, which I read and very much enjoyed last week. The precocious Billy is smart, bookish, lovable, and adventurous while navigating a life that sees his 18-year-old brother spend time in prison, his mother abandon the family, his father die, and more. He often acts like a mini-adult yet is still charmingly boyish in certain ways.
Towles is obviously masterful at creating and depicting young people as supporting characters, because he also featured the unforgettable girls Nina and Sofia in his wonderful novel A Gentleman in Moscow that I read last year. They are mother and daughter, but both appear as children in different parts of a book that spans decades.
Then there’s the charming Giuseppe in Elsa Morante’s novel History (he’s the son of a beleaguered single mother in Italy during World War II); the feisty Maggie Tulliver as a girl in the first part of George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss; the brainy, studious, ambitious Francie Nolan of Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; the conflicted teen John Grimes in James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain; the brave teen Starr Carter, whose male friend is murdered by police in Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give; the wise-beyond-his-years Ponyboy Curtis of S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders; and only child Jody Baxter, who co-stars with a fawn in Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ 19th-century-set The Yearling.
Taking place WAY before that, in prehistoric times, is Jean M. Auel’s The Clan of the Cave Bear and its amazing young protagonist Ayla.
Some fictional young people are so iconic that one doesn’t need to say much about them. They include Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane as a girl in the first part of Jane Eyre, L.M. Montgomery’s Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables, Harper Lee’s Scout Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird, Charles Dickens’ Pip (Great Expectations) and Oliver Twist, Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland-visiting Alice, L. Frank Baum’s Dorothy Gale of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and Hermione Granger, and Louisa May Alcott’s Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy of Little Women.
Obviously, readers of the novels I mentioned and the many kid-or-teen-starring novels I didn’t mention see plenty of great and sometimes fraught interactions between young siblings, between young friends, and between young people and adults. Readers also might remember their own childhoods, or, if they’re still young themselves, currently relate to the characters — providing that the adult authors make those characters believable and interesting enough!
Also, we’re of course interested in what young people in fiction will be like when they grow up. In those novels that span enough years, we find out. 🙂
Your favorite kids and teens in literature?
My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.
In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com every Thursday. The latest piece — which includes the latest about a proposed redevelopment, an expansion of bus service, and more — is here.