The “endearing misfit” has been a popular character in books over the last few years, with several wildly popular books featuring characters that might fall under this heading.
I think there are a few reasons for this. In some ways, almost all of us see ourselves as misfits. We are aware—sometimes painfully, sometimes not—of the quirks that make us different from those around us. We feel the moments of otherness, and it’s reassuring to read stories misfits that are loved, lovable, and their quirks defining.
I think we also seek out these books to understand and empathize with people in vastly different circumstances than our own. We like to think we would be the one to befriend the misfit nearby, or help them through a tough situation. Maybe we know people like the ones in the stories, and we want to see success and happiness for them.
One of the great things about these stories is that they often include supporting characters who don’t give up on the misfits. And the best ones have misfits who continue to be exactly the people they are, and they thrive.
Perhaps the thing that we like most about these books is rooting for the underdog. Sometimes it just feels good to root for a great character!
Whether written for adults, young adults, or a middle grade audience, all the books below feature characters who are “misfits” or “underdogs” in different ways. If you’re looking for a character to root for, give a few of these books a try.
I can never resist a book about a dog, and this one promised to be quirky, sweet, and heartbreaking. It was all of those things, but I was conflicted while reading about whether it was the right book for me, mostly due to elements of magical realism throughout. Ted's devotion to his beloved dog is touching and pet lovers especially will feel his fear and loneliness at the prospect of losing Lily to the "octopus" invading her brain. Ultimately it all came together to touch on love, loneliness, grief, and the beautiful companionship and memories we build with our pets during their short lives. More info →
This sweet book follows Don Tillman, an Australian genetics professor who decides to embark on what he calls The Wife Project to find his perfect partner. Don likely has Aspergers syndrome, and he figures his best chance of finding someone is using a scientific approach. Along the way, he meets Rosie, a woman he quickly eliminates from The Wife Project, but who intrigues him with her search for her biological father. He quickly jumps into The Father Project in the first of many bursts of spontaneity and excitement that Rosie brings into his well-ordered life. More info →
This book has similarities to the very popular A Man Called Ove. It feels like a bit of a trope now, but it's a pleasing one: sad curmudgeon (in this case, A.J., a bookstore owner) finds his happiness when unlikely people enter his life. He continues to be curmudgeony but shows love and kindness in quirky, funny ways. What makes The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry even more relatable for readers is the bookstore setting and the way books and stories are woven into the lives of the characters: as comfort objects, discussion topics, relationship touchpoints, and contemplations on life. More info →
I grabbed this sweet middle grade book on a whim, not realizing it's a graphic novel and a memoir of the author's own experience navigating elementary school as a deaf child who uses hearing aids. Cece wants more than anything to find a true friend, but she feels like her hearing aids and her deafness create a barrier between herself and the other kids. They either treat her too differently or forget to speak so she can lip read and understand. Cece soon realizes that she may have differences, but they can be good and even give her superpowers. This is an excellent book to share with kids to discuss the feelings of people who have differing abilities, and how they can view their own differences positively. More info →
Melody is an eleven-year-old girl who has never walked, fed herself, or gotten herself dressed. She has also never spoken a word, though her head is filled with them. Melody has cerebral palsy, and many of the most basic aspects of her life present a challenge. But what she longs for most is the ability to communicate and show the world that the person inside is smart and feeling. Her world is changed when she learns of a machine that can help her communicate, in much the same way we've all seen Stephen Hawking speak. When she starts to show her smarts in school and in a high-stakes trivia competition, will her classmates allow her to become a full-fledged member of the team? This book wasn't perfect, but it was inspiring, insightful, and emotional. I especially recommend it for any children who may have classmates with cerebral palsy or other disabilities. More info →
"Butter" is a teenage boy, and he is obese. He is much more than that, but that is what his classmates see, and that is how they know him. In an act of desperation, Butter makes a horrifying pledge to eat himself to death--live online. The sudden popularity that results is both unexpected and unsettling, as his newfound "friends" push him to keep his promise. As the date draws nearer and the pressure grows, Butter must sort out what he really wants and what real friendship means. While Butter can at times be frustrating and doesn't always do the right thing, he emerges as an empathetic character who is undeniably human and trapped by his own weaknesses, decisions, and the bullies who see him only as entertainment. More info →
Eleanor and Park are 16-year-old misfits, both alone and in their own worlds, until they're not. They find each other on the bus. Soon they are sharing a seat, as well as music, quips, and literature references. This is the teen romance that will be appreciated by teens and adults alike, both for its eyes-wide-open view of the outcome of teen romances and for its willingness to acknowledge their importance in our lives. These are the underdogs who you want to see come together, because of how they enhance and support one another. They are awkward, endearing, and authentic, and you will root for them both from beginning to end. More info →
Will Grayson and Will Grayson are two teen boys who live near one another, but their names are where their similarities end. Their lives overlap--and continue to overlap, thanks to the fabulously loud and flamboyant Tiny Cooper, one Will's best friend and the other's love interest. It's Tiny who really shines here, and this is one teen book that is less about finding love than it is about finding love in your friends, in yourself, and in the person you choose to be. More info →
Ten-year-old Ian is a bookworm who young librarian Lucy Hull helps smuggle books past his overbearing mother. He also might be gay, much to the horror of his parents, who have sent him to anti-gay classes with Pastor Bob. When he shows up after hours at the library with a plan to run, Lucy suddenly finds herself an unwitting kidnapper, driving Ian halfway across the country with a half-formed plan to save him. Moral questions and gray areas abound and aren't always satisfactorily resolved, which may frustrate some readers, but the point here is less about moralizing (on either side) than it is about having the courage to save yourself. While many parts of the book are implausible, the bookish references and the belief in the power of books will delight avid readers. More info →
I've been hearing about this book for months, and I found it just as delightful as so many other readers. Ove is a solitary curmudgeon who is set in his ways and unreserved in his criticism of anyone who crosses his path. "Hell is other people" could well be Ove's mantra. But behind his rough exterior is a sweet, sad backstory and a soft-hearted man committed to his morals who is about to have his world rocked by several people (and a cat) who refuse to be held off by a few cranky words. More info →
I know there are others that I’ve not listed here, mostly because I haven’t read them yet–Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and Wonder both come to mind, and are on my TBR list. What others do you recommend?