Why I Love Unreliable Narrators

I don’t think I’m alone in saying that books containing unreliable narrators are some of the most exciting and intriguing novels out there. Most books I’ve come across either are told in third person, and the narrator overlooking the narrative isn’t telling us the whole truth, or is omitting information, or it’s told in first person, and the protagonist isn’t someone we can fully trust in terms of what they’re observing or allowing us to infer. But it’s when these types of books get crossed with vaguely supernatural elements that things get really interesting.

I’m talking about books where you can’t fully trust what the characters are seeing or experiencing, or saying they’re seeing or experiencing. It’s when things don’t seem quite right, but you’re not sure who, or what, to believe — the character, or your own sense of logic? Is the character actually seeing ghosts, or are they experiencing some kind of hallucination? Choosing what to believe is all part of the mystery and intrigue, and that’s the reason why I love these kinds of novels.

The first book I read like this was We Were Liars — a book with an unreliable narrator and a twist I never saw coming. I’m very gullible and likely to believe everything characters are saying, so that makes me the perfect target for them to mess with. The whole time, I was trying to figure out what was happening and what was real, and at the end, it all clicked. Having that moment of realisation that everything I’d been reading had been wrong is what I live for in these kinds of books.

Another book that gave me the same kind of experience was Yellow — an Aussie YA novel about ghosts and murders and an old telephone box. Again, the story was told through the eyes of someone I didn’t know if I could trust. Was what the character was experiencing real? How would everything play out? Not knowing what’s ahead, or if I should even believe what’s been experienced in the novel, not only messes with my head, but it also has me glued to the pages until the very end. Give me an unreliable narrator with questionable experiences, and I’ll finish that book in one sitting.

And so I was thrilled when I found that Ballad for a Mad Girl contained those elements. It was similar to both We Were Liars and Yellow in the way that I wasn’t sure if what the protagonist was experiencing was real or not, and I absolutely loved being taken on that adventure of finding out what was really going on with her. Those spooky parts were definitely a highlight, and this story took me on one heck of a ride. With twists and turns arriving when I was least expecting them, Ballad for a Mad Girl was a book I just raced through, desperate to see how it would all end.

But aside from the haunting, supernatural aspects of this amazing new #LoveOzYA novel, there’s also a lot of heavy things in discussion. The novel centres around Grace Foley, a girl suffering from the loss of her mother and struggling with her relationships with both her friends, and her dad and brother. Ballad for a Mad Girl was an emotional book, and Grace’s grief and confusion — not only about the current events, but about her place in the world that she’s desperately trying to navigate — pours from every heartfelt sentence.

Perfectly capturing the feel of a small Aussie town, Ballad for a Mad Girl catapults you into the narrative and allows you to experience the way this little community runs. The characters are unique and three-dimensional, all dealing with their own struggles in different ways while trying to remain loyal to the friendships they have. Their dialogue was authentic and their problems genuine. It would be easy to image these people were real, just waiting to step through the pages. This isn’t just a book for young adults — the universal struggles of the characters and the powerful messages one can take from this novel makes it something that all readers will be able to relate to in one way or another. With complex and genuine characters, a captivating narrative and the authenticity of a small-town setting, Ballad for a Mad Girl is the epitome of great Aussie YA.


4 Stars

Let's Talk

Do you enjoy reading books with unreliable narrators? What’s your favourite novel that contains a narrator you can’t trust? Have you read any of the books I’ve mentioned? Will you be reading Ballad for a Mad Girl? I’d love to know!

Thanks to Text Publishing for providing me with a copy of Ballad for a Mad Girl in exchange for an honest review!

You might like

We Were Liars • Whisper to Me • Yellow

Ballad for a Mad Girl by Vikki Wakefield

Ballad for a Mad GirlEVERYONE knows seventeen-year-old Grace Foley is a
bit mad. She’s a prankster and a risk-taker, and she’s not afraid of anything—except losing. As part of the long-running feud between two local schools in Swanston, Grace accepts a challenge to walk the pipe.

That night she experiences something she can’t explain. The funny girl isn’t laughing anymore. She’s haunted
by voices and visions—but nobody believes a girl who cries wolf.

As she’s drawn deeper into a twenty-year-old mystery
surrounding missing girl Hannah Holt, the thin veil between this world and the next begins to slip. She can
no longer tell what’s real or imagined—all she knows is
the ghosts of Swanston, including that of her own mother, are restless. It seems one of them has granted her an extraordinary gift at a terrible price.

Everything about her is changing—her body, her thoughts, even her actions seem to belong to a stranger. Grace is losing herself, and her friends don’t understand. Is she moving closer to the truth? Or is she heading for madness?


9 thoughts on “Why I Love Unreliable Narrators

  1. I haven’t finished it yet, but One Of Us Is Lying definitely seems to match the category and I love it! Books with unreliable narrators are so thrilling. Great article!

  2. – Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov
    – Atonement, Ian McEwen
    Two very different books, but some of my favourite unreliable narrators – espesh Pale Fire. The amount of… subtext and detail that can be explored in this book is absolutely insane

  3. I loved Yellow, and I just finished Ballad For A Mad Girl and loved that too. I do love reading a book with unreliable narrator – loved being held on the edge of my seat, guessing. Wakefield has done a great job with this book. Great review. I’m glad you loved this one.

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