Playing with Point-of-View
by Emma S.
Young adult fiction authors love to break the rules and norms of writing. These writers play with the boundaries of genre, character diversity, and edgy content. But most of all, there is no set point-of-view that all writers of young adult fiction must use. They use omniscient third person, limited third person, limited first person, and alternating first person. They write from the POV of the rich, the poor, love interests, enemies, an imaginary friend, personified death, a squirrel, and even a bench.
Omniscient third person is defined in Perrine’s Literature as “a story told in the third person by a narrator whose knowledge and prerogatives are unlimited. Such narrators are free to go wherever they wish, to peer inside the minds and hearts of characters at will and tell us what they are thinking or feeling” (254). Perhaps one of the best examples of omniscient third person POV appears in Falling into Place by Amy Zhang; this book is the story of Liz Emerson, a girl who tries to commit suicide by crashing her car. The entire book is narrated by Liz’s childhood imaginary friend, who delves into the minds of many characters and uses flashbacks to show what Liz and others were thinking and feeling. Of course not every character’s thoughts and feelings are shown, but they are for Liz’s mother, best friends, and the boy who has a crush on her. Consider this excerpt from Falling into Place.
There are three kinds of people after the surgery is pronounced successful.
There are the ones who are breathless, shaking, crying in that crushing and desperate kind of relief—namely, Liz’s mother and Julia. When the doctor first told Monica that her daughter had not died on the operating table, she went to Julia and held her, because she couldn’t hold Liz.
All team practices have been cancelled for the day, so the waiting room is clogged with the second kind of people, the ones who aren’t surprised at all. They shrug and say that they were never worried, never mind the fact that they had all abandoned their homework out of their profound concern. They sit around the low tables and say that they always knew Liz was strong enough to pull through.
And then there is Matthew Derringer, who is just the slightest bit disappointed, because he has already ordered flowers for the funeral. (128-129)
Omniscient third person is extremely effective in a book such as Falling into Place. The protagonist is in a coma or surgery for most of the present-day scenes. An all-knowing, all-seeing narrator is necessary to tell what Liz was thinking before the crash and to show the reactions after. Additionally, Liz Emerson is not a sympathetic character in the least, so the use of her imaginary friend makes her a bit more approachable. Omniscient third person does what limited cannot.
Limited third person is “told in the third person, but from the viewpoint of one character in the story. Such point-of-view characters are filters through whose eyes and minds writers look at the events. Authors employing this perspective may move both inside and outside these characters but never leave their sides” (255). In her book, Princess Academy, Shannon Hale utilizes limited third person. We see the story unfold through only the protagonist Miri’s eyes. She sees how other characters react and can guess how they are feeling, but we have to do the same. There are no breaks in the POV; the “camera” stays with Miri the entire time, as seen in the following excerpt.
Her hands were on fire, her leg was numb. She tried to kick him off but could not budge his weight. Dan tried to climb the cliff wall with one hand, using her leg to pull himself up. Miri screamed from the pain of holding on. Her hands were slipping, and she felt herself nearly falling with the snow.
Then something struck Dan on the forehead. He looked up, but his eyes seemed blind, as if his vision were lost trying to following a snowflake. His hold on the cliff slipped, his weight lessened, and then, unexpectedly, Miri was watching him get smaller and smaller. His arms and legs splayed as though he were making a snow angel in midair. The wind blew the falling snow into circles and spirals, washing out everything below, so that Miri did not see him hit the ground.
She looked up. Her pa was leaning over the cliff edge, the mallet gone from his hand. (277-278)
Finally, YA authors often write in first person. They rarely use objective POV, likely because teenagers are all about thinking and feeling. Objective POV imparts only what is visible. First person POV is the author disappearing into one of the characters, who tells the story from only their thoughts. Perhaps half of young adult novels utilize this style. Many take it a step further, however, and write in alternating first person. An example of this style is Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren Morrill. This book tells the story of two girls named Sloane Jacobs (although their middle names differ), who switch places at their figure skating and hockey camps. Obviously, simple limited first person would not work here. Both girls’ thoughts are necessary to the narration. There would not be enough action or explanation if we were only shown Hockey Sloane’s thoughts and vice versa.
As prevalent as alternating first person has become, regular limited first person is still common and just as effective. There are books where readers should only be given the protagonist’s or antagonist’s thoughts and feelings, apart from what he or she sees or is told in dialogue. First person perhaps works best in introspective contemporary, where the narrative focuses on the protagonist’s growth. The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord is a perfect example. Paige Hancock is a half-broken protagonist who needs to find herself and be brave and finds love along the way, all of which is displayed in the following excerpt from Lord’s book.
I used to think it took me so long because, on some level, I wasn’t quite ready to be with Max. But now I think I wasn’t quite ready to be me. I needed to relearn myself, to venture into new friendships and nerdy after-school activities and my own mind. I needed to realize that I was one-fourth of a family that is not normal and that no family is normal. I needed to start seeing my sister as a person, so nearly a peer, and to watch girlfriends grow, each in her own way, together. I needed to paddle without my grandmother, despite my sadness. I needed to let go of my unknowns about Aaron, to let peace fill the empty spaces.
Max stood waiting for me, not moving closer, and maybe he had been waiting for me to take the steps for myself this whole time. I was closing in, nearly reaching the three steps down that separated us. And I jumped.
I felt my feet leave the ground, the air beneath me. If I was scared, it was in that pulsing, breathless scared you feel when what you’ve just done might change your life forever. When you know that there’s someone to catch you, and he does.
He set me down and, the moment my feet hit the floor, I pressed up onto my toes and kissed him for the exact right reason: because I wanted to. Not because he was a silly crush or an item on a checklist. Because he was Max, plaid shirts and robots and airplanes and all. (372)
Point-of-view is very effective when used correctly, and it can either make or break a book. There are many YA novels that do not properly utilize the chosen POV, or the author does not even choose the right one. However, it is clear that there is no single way to narrate—an author can do anything he wants. A book’s POV might involve alternating first person, both first person and limited third person in the same book, and even the POV of a squirrel.