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so ask already!!! > YA with Ugly Protagonist

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message 1: by Mike (new)

Mike Mullin | 16 comments I've read tons of great YA lately, but I'm getting sick of the whole beautiful protagonist/love interest trope. Non-gorgeous people have lives, too! Can anyone recommend a YA novel with an ugly, but likeable, protagonist? Or do I have to write the damn thing?


message 2: by Meredith (new)

Meredith Holley (meredithholley) | 194 comments Have you read The Blue Castle? It was my favorite as a kid. It has a protagonist who is ugly, but, you know, as she starts to trust herself, she gets prettier, so I don't know if that counts.


message 3: by Mike (new)

Mike Mullin | 16 comments NO! It doesn't count. In fact, it's specifically annoying. Exterior beauty is not an indicator of interior beauty or maturity, and authors that use it that way deserve to have that crutch kicked out from under them forcefully.

Sorry about the rant. I appear to be prematurely becoming a grumpy old man.


message 4: by Mir (last edited Feb 23, 2012 03:37PM) (new)

Mir | 189 comments Ugh, I hate when authors have a character who fat or ugly at the start of the book become beautiful by the end.

Have you read Margaret Mahy? The MC in The Tricksters is definitely not pretty, although I think she's supposed to be plain rather than ugly. And her more recent Alchemy has an unattractive girl as a main character (although the narrative is from the guy's point of view).


message 5: by Meredith (new)

Meredith Holley (meredithholley) | 194 comments No, that's fine. I basically agree, but that is so common. I guess I do not agree that it is annoying because I think that rigid standards of beauty are more annoying. But I think I see what you are going for.

It is not specifically YA, but you might like Geek Love. It has a character who is an albino, a character without arms and legs, and Siamese twins.


message 6: by Rhiannon (new)

Rhiannon (hellomynameisbook) | 33 comments Hey Mike - The Secret Fruit of Peter Paddington is realistic fiction with a touch of magical realism, and has a great YA male POV. No pretty people here...


message 7: by Mir (new)

Mir | 189 comments I haven't read this, but there's The Duff.


message 8: by Jasmine (last edited Feb 23, 2012 04:47PM) (new)

Jasmine | 455 comments Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick
I believe the chick is hot but the main character is a boy who is not at all hot if I remember correctly.

WTF
I believe the protagonist is a loser who never gets invited to parties.(but I"m not 100% on that one)


message 9: by Mike (new)

Mike Mullin | 16 comments I forgot about The Duff--it's awesome!


message 10: by Mir (new)

Mir | 189 comments I wouldn't bill this as exactly YA (it's suitable for younger kids as well, I think I read it at 10 or 11) but how about Howl's Moving Castle? Howl is vain despite not being good looking, and Sophie is not only not pretty, but has been cursed into old age.


message 11: by Mike (new)

Mike Mullin | 16 comments Great suggestions, thanks!


message 12: by Patricia (new)

Patricia | 10 comments Dairy Queen (Dairy Queen, #1) by Catherine Gilbert Murdock might be a good one for you. I wouldn't say DJ is an ugly protagonist, but she's a tough tomboy/farmgirl on the husky side who doesn't fit the standard beauty mold. And if you like it, there are two more in the series!


message 13: by Mike (new)

Mike Mullin | 16 comments I love DJ! She was one of the inspirations for my character in Ashfall, Darla.


message 14: by Wendy Darling (new)

Wendy Darling (wendydarling) | 20 comments This is a great question, and I'm definitely going to be checking out some of the other books mentioned here. A few more suggestions:

Geek High features a girl who has a big nose and frizzy hair, but it's not all about her appearance, which I like. She has a couple of brief "pretty" moments later in the series, but it's not something that is a magical makeover transformation, so it feels pretty realistic.

One of the main characters in The Summoning (Darkest Powers) trilogy is pretty off-putting in the beginning of the trilogy as well, as he has bad skin, greasy hair, and strong body odor. He does become more appealing later on (those things are all part of adolescence, and he also is undergoing some...other changes), but it's not a case of overnight hotness at all. The reader gets to know him and like him for different reasons, and it's written in a convincing way.

This is more of a middle grade book, but Wonder is absolutely amazing. The main character has a facial deformity and it's handled with a great deal of sensitivity and insight.

A lot of people also like North of Beautiful, although I wasn't the hugest fan. The main character has a scar on her cheek and has low self-esteem, but...you can imagine where it ends. Still, it may be worth looking into, I'm definitely in the minority as far as my response to it.

I do think it'd be great to see more fictional characters that aren't attractive, though. There are books where the protagonists' appearance aren't a primary feature of the story or where they're not "conventionally" pretty, but it's rare that you get one where the the character is described as unattractive.


message 15: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine | 455 comments If Jack's In Love is about a kid who is white trash. it's shelved as adult fiction, but it's on the boarder of teen.


message 16: by Colby (new)

Colby (colbz) Food, Girls, & Other Things I Can't Have by Allen Zadoff Glimpse by Carol Lynch Williams Be More Chill by Ned Vizzini It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

Those last two, I'm pretty sure, the main characters are just never described as attractive, really. I mean, they'll have attractive girls in them, but that's kind of unavoidable.


message 17: by Mike (new)

Mike Mullin | 16 comments Thanks for the awesome suggestions!


message 18: by [deleted user] (new)

Meg from A Wrinkle in Time is not a pretty girl, though I think her relative poverty is more the issue than her looks when it comes to why she's not getting along in school.


message 19: by Mir (new)

Mir | 189 comments I thought it was her fighting, stemming from her father's absence? I didn't think they were terribly poor -- her family is portrayed as better off than Cal's, and is popular, right?


message 20: by [deleted user] (new)

I just remember an interlude with some shoes that the principal, whom she hates, buys for her and then scuffs to pretend like they were used and donated. Her dad being missing is the source of some nasty gossip too though, as I dimly recall. I should read it again.


message 21: by Mir (last edited Mar 22, 2012 09:03AM) (new)

Mir | 189 comments I think she got into fights with people who talked about her parents? Because the "townsfolk" or whatever all thought her dad ran off and left her mom, (view spoiler).


message 22: by [deleted user] (new)

Spoiler alert.

That's my sense. I also get the sense that because her dad is missing, along with his income, the family is slipping into poverty.


message 23: by Mir (new)

Mir | 189 comments Thanks! I forget there are people who haven't read this. What's the matter with those doofs?

Yeah, I think you're right. Don't the brothers have some side projects for extra cash? And grow vegetables or something?


message 24: by Lauren (new)

Lauren (peptastic) It does get depressing to only read about gorgeous people all the time. Where are the Jane Eyre's?

Fat Kid Rules the World is about an obese teenager who friends a druggie Curt Cobain type and forms a band. It's a moving story about not getting too hung up on hating oneself.

Howl's Moving Castle is about a plain girl whose turned into an old woman.
It's a classic and has a different morale than the film which WAS about thinking your pretty or not.

Kissing the Bee is awesome. The girl's friend IS beautiful but this is a realistic pretty.
No smoldering purple eyed beauties who move with a predatory stance blah blah stuff.


message 25: by Mike (new)

Mike Mullin | 16 comments Thanks for the great suggestions! Wonderwas awesome, and featured an (externally) ugly protagonist.


message 26: by K. (new)

K. (aoutranc3) As far as a fairly plain protagonist goes, you have Blood Red Road - though I would say it takes Saba some time to become likable (just because she's so gosh-darned stubborn).


message 27: by Elena (new)

Elena (elenalikesbooks) | 94 comments The protagonist of Guardian of the Dead is fat, so there's that, but I don't think anyone ever comments on whether she's pretty.


message 28: by Wendy Darling (new)

Wendy Darling (wendydarling) | 20 comments I'm glad you enjoyed WONDER, Mike.

I also recently read Daylight Saving, a paranormal YA with a male protagonist who is overweight and is ridiculed for his appearance. It's definitely unusual to see a non-realistic fiction novel with a main character who is considered so unattractive. UK author, from Candlewick.


message 29: by Regina (new)

Regina (reginar) I would suggest:
Ready Player One (definitely not attractive, overweight, pimples -- but seems to have the ability to do anything he sets his mind to)
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Keep Holding On (no comment if she is beautiful, but clearly socially awkward, uncomfortable in herself)

Some other YA books that are not focused on the protag's beauty, but on the characters and storyline:

Alif the Unseen (not typical YA, college aged)
The Knife of Never Letting Go
Ship Breaker


message 30: by Mike (new)

Mike Mullin | 16 comments Great suggestions! I read and loved Ready Player One, Part-time Indian, Knife of Never Letting Go, and Shipbreaker. I havent read Keep Holding on or Alif yet--I'll put those on my list.


message 31: by Regina (new)

Regina (reginar) Ah, oh well! Keep Holding on fluctuates in my mind between 3 and 4 stars. It is truly written as an inspirational message to teens being picked on to -- keep holding on. The message is good, but it is a message book. I am in the middle of Alif and loving it. :)


message 32: by Mike (new)

Mike Mullin | 16 comments Hmm, maybe I'll skip it then. I don't like a lot of overt messaging in my books. Let me know how you wind up liking Alif--sounds intriguing!


message 33: by Steven (new)

Steven (stevengrecia) Try reading Uglies! I'm not sure if it's about an ugly protagonist but I think the title implies it. I wanna read it so bad but I can't find a copy. In case you'll read it, tell me if it's worth finding. Thanks.


message 34: by Yinzadi (last edited Aug 08, 2012 01:27AM) (new)

Yinzadi | 12 comments A Face First is about a girl coming to terms with the fact that just because she is no longer pretty, does not mean her life has somehow become pointless, or that people will no longer love her or see her as a person.

In Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie, the sequel to Tithe: A Modern Faery Tale, the main character is disgusted by looking like her pretty mother and so shaves her head, and falls in love with a (very un-pretty) troll. You don’t have to read Tithe in order to read Valiant, either.

In Girl in a Cage the main character is starved and kept in a cage (never has a bath, never changes clothes), but still manages to command respect and influence people.

This is for somewhat younger children, but Sarah in Sarah, Plain and Tall is, obviously, plain and tall.

The Skin I'm In is about a girl with very dark skin who is bullied for her appearance.

The main character in Tangerine is a boy with thick glasses, and I believed is described as not particularly good-looking.

The main character in The Schwa Was Here is pretty blunt about his own appearance.

The main character in Born Confused is very harsh about her own appearance.

I believe the main character in The Midwife's Apprentice is outright described as ugly by the other characters.

If memory serves Crispin of Crispin: The Cross of Lead is not supposed to be particularly good-looking, cover artwork to the contrary.

The narrator in Bridge to Terabithia can initially not tell whether the main female character is a boy or a girl. Not exactly saying she’s unattractive, but she certainly isn’t some ultra-feminine pinnacle of female beauty.

The main character in Criss Cross is quite insecure about her appearance, and initially critical of the way she looks I believe.

The main character in The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963 has a lazy-eye.

The main character in Pictures of Hollis Woods is supposed to be very skinny and plain.

As I was trying to think of "ugly" characters for this post, I realized that there are very few young adult or children's books (that I can think of) that describe the main character in terms which would make them outright pretty/handsome. Most characters are simply just described, and the question of attractiveness is pretty much ignored, unless it's "Does this specific person find me attractive?". I hadn't thought much about this before.


message 35: by Peter (new)

Peter (peteepie) | 64 comments wow yinzadi, that is amazing. but you, you are an enigma. all those ratings and not a single review. i hope you don't mind but i've added you to my list of reviewers to follow in the hope that you will one day review a book, as you obviously know your stuff.
i am now following yinzadi and karen; one who keeps his/her opinions to him/herself, and one who doesn't...


message 36: by [deleted user] (last edited Aug 08, 2012 09:26AM) (new)

Try reading Uglies! I'm not sure if it's about an ugly protagonist but I think the title implies it.

The Uglies is exactly the kind of book the OP doesn't want to read.

Try some of Ursula K. Le Guin's young adult novels. Ged (in the Earthsea books) quickly acquires a very set of large, visible scars. In general, the majority of Le Guin's protagonists aren't in love triangles, aren't rendered as superior due to their physical appearances, and a reasonable amount of the time are matter-of-factly not white.

ETA: Here's the blurb from Uglies:
"Everybody gets to be supermodel gorgeous. What could be wrong with that? Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can't wait. Not for her license -- for turning pretty. In Tally's world, your sixteenth birthday brings an operation that turns you from a repellent ugly into a stunningly attractive pretty and catapults you into a high-tech paradise where your only job is to have a really great time. In just a few weeks Tally will be there."


message 37: by Yinzadi (last edited Aug 08, 2012 10:19PM) (new)

Yinzadi | 12 comments Peter wrote: "wow yinzadi, that is amazing. but you, you are an enigma. all those ratings and not a single review. i hope you don't mind but i've added you to my list of reviewers to follow in the hope that y..."

Haha, thank you. I'm very flattered. You make me want to write a review!


message 38: by Steven (new)

Steven (stevengrecia) Osho wrote: "Try reading Uglies! I'm not sure if it's about an ugly protagonist but I think the title implies it.

The Uglies is exactly the kind of book the OP doesn't want to read.

Try some of Ursula K. Le ..."


Oh sorry. I didn't know. But thanks though!


message 39: by [deleted user] (new)

The title suggests that it would be a good fit, but it's the opposite. :)


message 40: by Steven (new)

Steven (stevengrecia) Osho wrote: "The title suggests that it would be a good fit, but it's the opposite. :)"

Yeah, lol. That's weird. =)) But have you read it?


message 41: by [deleted user] (new)

Yes, I've read the whole series.


message 42: by Steven (new)

Steven (stevengrecia) Well, is it any good?


message 43: by Agatha (new)

Agatha (qwertyuiopmadness) | 1 comments Have you read the novel Stick? From what I've heard, the main character is gangly and deformed. (he has only one ear.) Maybe you should check that out :) I haven't read the novel yet, but it's well-received around the people I follow here :D


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