Challenging, difficult and unlikable characters are a funny thing. When they're done well, they make for some of the most memorable characters in books.
However, they're often misunderstood as readers tend to want characters to whom they can relate, and no one wants to admit to related to someone who's well, kind of a jerk. It's even tougher for female characters, whom are often held to higher standards than their male counterparts (a subject I intend to write about eventually).
So, I thought I'd use this week's List-O-Rama post to give a shout-out to some of my favorite challenging female characters.
Every character in every book by Courtney Summers. (YA)
Namely, Sloane from This is Not a Test and Regina from Some GIrls Are. These two girls are definitely people people I would not want to hang out with--and neither would even think of letting me be their friend. But Summers is such an adept writer that she makes me care about these girls and want things to be okay for them. I wanted Sloane to want to survive the zombie apocalypse; I wanted mean girl Regina to triumph over the other mean girls.
Grace - Unsticky by Sarra Manning (Adult)
Oh, Grace... She's such a disaster: terrible friend, disastrous taste in men, queen of bad decisions. In Unsticky, she's the portrait of someone who needs to get her act together and has to learn each lesson the hard way, making her own self-destructive drama seemingly frustrating. She agrees to be arm candy in exchange for designer clothing and cold, hard cash. And yet, I can't remember the last time I rooted for a character so much.
Victoria - Can't Hurry Love by Molly O'Keefe (Adult)
I could have chosen any of the leading women from Molly O'Keefe's Crooked Creek series, but Victoria probably has the toughest row to hoe. We're introduced to Victoria in the previous book, Can't Buy Me Love (oh, Tara Jean Sweet, you are one prickly gal too) where she's retreated to her dead father's Texas ranch after her husband kills himself after orchestrating a ponzi scheme which bilked their New York City friends out of their life savings. She's aloof and cruel and the sort of character you love to hate. But there's a lot more to her than what she appears and in Can't Hurry Love, we discover the real Victoria who's hiding behind that carefully-cultivated facade.
Leah - Such a Rush by Jennifer Echols (YA)
I'm not sure if I've mentioned it before, but the aforementioned Crooked Creek novels remind me quite a bit of Jennifer Echols' books, despite the Jennifer's books are young adult and Molly's are adult novels. Both frequently tackle characters who aren't instantly likable or easy for other characters to get to know. Leah has spent her life putting up walls between herself and everyone else and is harden to the point of maybe even being harsh. She judges other girls, assumes the worst about everyone and doesn't open up to anyone. It's interesting to read the Goodreads reviews of this book, because many, many reviewers have a very visceral reaction to Leah, going so far as to say they "hate" her. Whereas, I kind of love her--I'm not sure what that says.
Chess - Downside Ghosts Series by Stacia Kane (Adult)
It's surprising to me that there are not more challenging female characters in Urban Fantasy (there certainly isn't a shortage of unpleasant male characters in that genre). I wonder if it's a harder sell because Urban Fantasy usually takes the form of series and it's difficult to get readers to commit to a character for multiple books when they're tough to like? Chess breaks the mold for the genre; she's drug-addicted, a liar and an all-around degenerate.
Jessica Darling - Sloppy Firsts et al by Megan McCafferty (YA/Adult)
I waffled about whether or not to include Jessica on this list, because she is so beloved by so many people (including me). However, when push comes to shove, Jessica's kind of a asshole. She has an incredibly strong personality and is kind of a lousy friend, sister and girlfriend throughout the series. She's judgmental and she uses people. Awhile back I read a discussion on another site about "new adult" novels and when someone suggested including Charmed Thirds as a college-set novel, a number of people were incredibly upset, because they intensely hated Jessica for how she behaved with respect to Marcus Flutie in that installment--the anger around that alone justifies her inclusion on this list. (For what it's worth, I identify with Jessica on a level that should make me more uncomfortable than it does.)
Riley - Everything Beautiful by Simmone Howell (YA)
Simmone Howell's writing is so evocative that it's easy to forget how unpleasant Riley is, but I'm going out on a limb and including her on this list too. Her intense distain for all of the generally decent people at the religious camp her father sends her to. She's deceitful. She lies. She makes no apologies. She disappoints everyone--and knows full well what she's doing. She doesn't believe in goodness or happy endings. And she doesn't undergo a radical transformation during Everything Beautiful--her change is subtler.
- "If You're Never Sorry" - Courtney Summers on Angry Girls
- "Difficult Heroines" - Molly O'Keefe's Guest Post on Dear Author
- "Loving the Unlikable Heroine" - Robin on Dear Author
- [Edit] "Stubborn GIrls (and why I love them)" - Angie at Angieville
- Goodreads' "Popular Unlikable Heroines" List (fascinating stuff)
Are there any difficult or challenging characters you have a lot of affection for?
Pulling together this list, I realized that in certain genres (ie, big R Romance), a female character with a somewhat prickly personality is nearly a must-have.