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Book titles are tough. Editors, publishers, and writers strive to encompass the important elements of a story–a great setting, a mystery, a thrilling plot, or an emotional relationship–in just a few words.
But when a story has a great character, sometimes it’s as easy as putting their name in the title.
When I see a book with a name in the title, I’m instantly curious about what makes that character special.
A character with their name in the title of the book has a heavy load to carry, and when they pull it off, I know I’m in for a read with an intriguing character that I want to follow through to the end.
Here are 13 books with such strong characters they are named in the title.
I’m linking up with That Artsy Reader Girl for Top Ten Tuesday.
Anne is well-known, well-loved, and never at a loss for words. When Anne, an orphan, is mistakenly sent to Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, an elderly brother and sister who wanted a boy to help with the farm, she shakes up their lives and the lives of others in Avonlea with her sense of adventure and optimistic spirit. I re-read Anne in 2017 and have been enjoying the Netflix series Anne with an E for a little darker, more grown-up perspective on Anne.
I have mixed feelings on Jane Eyre. The positive: Jane is amazing. Charlotte Bronte’s writing is amazing. The story is compelling and surprisingly readable, and it’s one from my bucket list. The negative: those men! Rochester and St. John Rivers, both manipulating mansplainers. Maybe reading Jane Eyre in the 21st century predisposes me to feel more bitterness toward them than Bronte intends. Jane herself is also frustrating in her deference to both men, but also admirable in her independence. In short, I haven’t quite sorted out how I feel about Jane, and that’s one reason I think she remains so fascinating to so many readers.
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.
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.
When a young woman otherwise destined for a life of service is swept off her feet by rich widower Maxim de Winter, she dreams of a wonderful life together at Manderly, the country estate he owns. But soon after their marriage and arrival at Manderly, she realizes that the shadow of Maxim’s late wife looms large and threatens her life, sanity, and their future together. While not a scary read, the tension underlying this entire book is masterful and the surprises continue until the very last page.
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.
Eleanor has her routine down to a science: work, weekly phone calls with her mother, and weekends with vodka (and nothing or no one else). She’s fine, and she’s even ready to pursue a relationship with a musician who seems perfect for her (though she hasn’t actually met him).
Never mind that she has no social life, no friends, and she tends to say brutally honest, awkward, and somewhat inappropriate things. She starts working out a self-improvement plan in anticipation of her future relationship with the musician, despite her mother’s cruel discouragement.
Meanwhile, she finds herself in an unexpected friendship with her coworker, Raymond, when they help an elderly gentleman after a fall. Slowly, the friendship helps draw Eleanor out of her isolation, but also pushes her toward difficult truths about herself, her past, and her future.
Eleanor is endearing for her mix of self-awareness and oblivious social awkwardness, and Raymond is an unexpected hero. This book manages to be funny, heartbreaking, and uplifting all at once.
If you liked Eleanor, you might also like these 11 Irresistible Books Like Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.
Rosie is one of those people who makes a room brighter just with her presence. Impulsive and whimsical, she is the polar opposite of Rex, her now ex-husband. Eleven-year-old Willow is enchanted by her mother and only tolerates her days at her rigid father’s house, counting down until the next magical adventures. But magic and candy can only go so far, and as her mother falls into exhaustion, addiction, and depression Willow feels her world slowly crumbling in a way she doesn’t quite understand. Wolfson masterfully provides the differing perspectives of all the characters in a way that inspires empathy, even as you are frustrated with the flawed Rex and Rosie. Each family member–especially Willow and her brother Asher–will break your heart in a different way.
Emma is truly a force, and while she may be snobbish, spoiled, and too idle for her own good, what makes her so compelling is that her focus isn’t usually on herself. Emma wants nothing more than to set up those around her in what she sees as perfect matches–all the while ignoring potential relationships of her own. Her exploits may be a bit of a power play and for her own entertainment, yes, but at the same time she is well-meaning and at times charmingly oblivious to the mistakes she makes. I enjoyed Emma even more the Pride and Prejudice, and Austen is, as ever, sharply observant of the subtleties of human relationships.
While the hype on the back of this book is kind of irritating (it’s not the most magical story ever and it’s definitely not a laugh riot), Little Bee is a beautiful, painful, horrifying novel—one worth reading. The story of the connection between Little Bee, a young Nigerian woman, and Sarah, an English wife and mother, unfolds slowly, alternating between their perspectives. Little Bee’s parts shine with lovely language and humorous insights, while Sarah’s fall a little flat, but I feel like this is part of the contrast of their experiences and how they respond. An important read that brings the horrors, fears, and hopes of asylum seekers to the doorstep.
I absolutely loved this retelling of the Little House on the Prairie book, from Caroline “Ma” Ingalls’ perspective. When I read and re-read the books as a child, Ma didn’t particularly stand out. She was just solid and steadfast, always the voice of reason and sure of what needed to be done (except maybe in the face of Indians, where her weaknesses and prejudices came out). This book moves through familiar scenes while highlighting the challenges and uncertainties of being a young, pregnant mother, alone on the prairie with only her wanderlust-filled husband and three- and five-year-old daughters. Only now, as a mother of daughters of similar ages, do I realize what a terrifying feat this was (and just how young Laura and Mary really were!). Miller’s prose is lovely and provides a wonderful grown-up dose of nostalgia. Highly recommended for fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder.
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. Ove is by turns funny, sad, and heartwarming. It’s delightful to watch his persistent new friends chip away at his hard shell to find the kind man lurking within.
When her family learns of their ties to the wealthy d’Urbervilles, Tess’s family pressures her to claim her place and elevate the family from poverty. The plan goes horribly wrong and Tess finds herself a grief-stricken, ruined woman. When she finds love and a potential new life with Angel Clare, she must decide whether to keep her past a secret or risk his rejection. Tess is truly a woman of her time, as are the characters around her, but Thomas Hardy was ahead of his. Hardy deftly illustrates the hypocrisy that dictated the expectations of women in this time and the pressures they faced to be pure, chaste, and angelic (the name “Angel” is a bit ironic here.). I loved this book, though it filled me rage on Tess’s behalf. It was a little slow moving in the middle, but it’s worth it to stick it out to the end.
What books do you love that are named for great characters?