After writing a couple of novels (here and here) with likable heroines/heroes, I decided to go a different direction with my next novel, SURI FIVE. Suri is a mean (some would say vicious) high school girl that doesn’t draw a lot of sympathy from the reader. Her story arc takes her through multiple personal catastrophes not of her own making, and by the end, she’s lost a lot and learned a lot and maybe become a little bit more sympathetic. I’ve heard back from multiple readers that they didn’t like Suri, and I suspect that some of them just put the book down after the first few chapters because they couldn’t take her attitude any more. I suspect this is a sort of cultural bias and entirely predictable for a generation raised on sugary sweet Disney princesses. If you’ve ever watched Japanese movies or read Japanese novels (I highly recommend it), you’ll know that they often don’t have happy endings or happy characters. That’s considered normal in Japan and it’s based on the Japanese view of life as hard, unpredictable and largely out of one’s control. Here in the United States, we tend to take a much more optimistic view of life and expect our novels and movies to reflect that.
On the other hand, many of my more adventursome readers have noted that, once they accepted the fact that Suri was who she was, they were able to relax and actually identify with her. This allowed them to experience her growth arc with her. Many of them have told me that the novel made them feel deep emotion and think about ideas and issues they’d never considered before, which is exactly the reaction I was hoping for. Others have said that the novel made them more sympathetic to people who have lived through deep sorrow. By vicariously experiencing the life of Suri, they’ve become less judgmental toward others. Again, this is exactly the reaction I hope for.
There’s a payoff that comes from reading novels that take you out of your comfort zone. And for those of you who are writers, there’s an even greater payoff that comes from throwing aside the usual formulas and venturing off the beaten path.