Through the eyes of a child
One of the reasons Ender’s Game is my favorite book is because you see how the adults are manipulating Ender, the main character who is six when the novel begins, and how he reacts to the new world they force upon him. Ender is smart. He adapts quickly and understands most of the manipulation going on around him. But he’s a child and most of all he wants friends and a happy family. His trust in the adults around him is sweet and humanizing. I love seeing the world from the point of view of a child in books for that reason. Their naiveté shows me how the world could look, how the world probably used to look to me, and it’s a good way to introduce new settings and characters.
I’m currently reading The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti. The main character, Ren, is about 12 years old. He has lived his entire life in an orphanage run by monks, so those 12 years haven’t given him a lot of worldly knowledge. When he is adopted by a man, Benjamin Nab, claiming to be his long lost older brother, Ren is ecstatic. He has been passed over by numerous other potential families because he is missing his left hand. Ren soon discovers that Benjamin is not his brother, in fact the man takes on a lot of roles. Whatever is necessary at the moment to get a room for the night or some food in their bellies, Benjamin will do. And Ren’s missing hand is a great selling point for all of the scams he plans to run.
I’m only about a third of the way into the book and already I want to reread it. The scene where Ren first comes to a large city is well written. He is seeing so many things for the first time that he has no idea how to put into context. The man with two women in the alley who are showing off their legs winks at Ren as he hands the women some money. The little knowledge he has of the world allows the author to make the mundane interesting again. I like when a child is the narrator or main character over a naïve adult. Adults should know better and when they don’t they are usually more aware of the feeling of embarrassment or shame at being unfamiliar with the world around them. Children can be embarrassed, but seem to enjoy the new world around them more.
Ren is taken in by two con men — Benjamin has a partner, Tom, who teaches Ren how to get money and lie. Ren was already a good thief — it was the only way to have something that was truly his at the orphanage — and he impresses the men with his sleight of hand. I treasure the moments when the young boy takes the men by surprise. After seeing him struggle and adapt, it’s nice to know Ren still excels in certain ways.
Young adult books appeal to me for the same reason. The main characters are seeing things for the first time and can often only put what they see into the context of the few things they already know. It gives authors a chance to show off narrative skills and make everything shiny and new. I prefer the sci fi young adult books to the coming of age/high school dramas because they give me a chance to encounter something new as well. It doesn’t really matter how well written meeting a cute boy or getting a first kiss is, I’ve done it and it’s going to take a lot to make me care. Since these books are meant for people who haven’t seen a lot of the world either they don’t always hit the same tone as books for adults with children as main characters.
I’m excited to see how much Ren grows and learns by the end of the book. Children lack the cynical attitude that can pull me out of a story. When they are excited and interested in their surroundings I find it easier to keep reading through a slow section. I need to find more well-written books with children leading the way. Any suggestions?