The courage to be yourself – help me build my reading list

What novels can you recommend about having the courage to be an individual?

My MC in Life Form 3 is the odd one out. He is in a regimented world that crushes originality. He begins to get an inkling that there is something much better than his monotonous life.

Life Form 3 is the story of his fight to come alive.

(Forgive the vagueness, but I’m keeping the lower-case about under my hat until I’ve got a draft that’s mature. And if those precocious italics are all Greek to you, my previous post explains all.) 

Anyway, I’m trying to read as much as possible that tackles these questions – whether YA, MG or adult fiction. I’m particularly interested in stories that show a boring, grinding world without putting the reader into a coma.

And so I throw the floor open – can you help me build my Life Form 3 reading list? What novels would you recommend?


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  1. #1 by Jemi Fraser on April 29, 2010 - 1:15 am

    Hmmm… The Giver by Lois Lowry – although that’s sort of stretching it. Brian’s stories by Gary Paulsen (later books). My brain’s done – if I think of more, I’ll pop back 🙂

  2. #2 by Cat Woods on April 29, 2010 - 1:52 am

    I’ll have to think on this. Most of the books nowadays that I read are dystopian. I’ll let you know if I figure anything out.

  3. #3 by DazyDayWriter on April 29, 2010 - 4:13 am

    Atlas Shrugged comes to mind (ayn rand), but you may be looking for more contemporary selections. If not, some of Steinbeck’s novels may also fit your search. And so many novels about artists (writers, painters, dancers, etc) focus on their struggle to commit to a creative path when others fail to find merit in such a risky endeavor. Good luck!

  4. #4 by Roz Morris on April 29, 2010 - 8:07 am

    @Jemi – some interesting suggestions there, I hadn’t heard of those.
    @Dazy – yes, I figured Steinbeck too.
    @Cat – your dystopian recommendations would be great!

  5. #5 by Diandra on April 29, 2010 - 10:26 am

    The classics, of course… “Brave new world”, “1984”.

  6. #6 by Jonathan Moore on April 29, 2010 - 11:16 am

    Handmaids Tale – Margaret Atwood.

  7. #7 by Roz Morris on April 29, 2010 - 12:24 pm

    @Diandra – 1984, of course. Recently read for exactly this purpose (and posted about…) BNWorld, yes, where’s my copy?
    @Jonathan – read years ago, and thanks for the reminder!

  8. #8 by Dominique on April 29, 2010 - 5:12 pm

    Um. Fitzgerald obviously! His short stories (or at least the two that I’ve read recently) aren’t so much about having the courage to be yourself, but the consequences of pretending to be someone you’re not.

    Bernice Bobs Her Hair — Bernice, a young girl, attempts to take on the persona of a nasty, popular girl like her cousin but ends up turning into a monster. Gasp!

    The Cut-Glass Bowl — A woman all about appearances has trouble coming to terms with her age. I have to re-read this one (blah, just read it last week, what a terrible memory I have). She’s cursed by this bowl which symbolizes her superficial youth and then when she loses her youth, the bowl remains there… haunting her.

    These are both shorts available for free, anywhere online.

    You could use these for your research (I just wrote a blog post about this, crazy) through what Rebecca McClanahan calls the Back Door Technique. Instead of describing your subject as accurately as possible, you describe it by what it is not. The technique works especially well when the subject being described is flawless or ideal — much like your MC having the courage to be a genuine individual. “For these subjects, a direct approach might yield sentimentality or cliche.”

    Ok, so this might be a particularly long comment, but I think it’s worthy of its length. Hope this was helpful.

  9. #9 by e.lee on April 29, 2010 - 5:38 pm

    The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

  10. #10 by Wulfie on April 29, 2010 - 6:11 pm

    Johnny Tremaine, Braveheart (the book) and The Outsiders.

  11. #11 by Roz Morris on April 29, 2010 - 8:23 pm

    @Dominique – of course, any excuse for Fitzgerald! And I’m interested in your ‘back door technique’. Could you elaborate?
    @e.lee – can’t go wrong with Wyndham – thanks!
    @Wulfie – interesting choices which I shall investigate.
    Crumbs, I’m going to be well read! Keep ’em coming, guys!

  12. #12 by Verdonk on April 29, 2010 - 11:23 pm

    Bradbury writes often about the crushing effect of conformity on the imagination – Fahrenheit 451 only the most obvious example.

    H G Wells’s Mr Polly tries to escape from conformity, a theme Wells often explores because of his interest in utopias and dystopias.

  13. #13 by Dominique on April 30, 2010 - 4:10 am

    From what I’ve learned about it, the back door technique is a really cool method of description that actually has nothing to do with direct description. It’s like when you look at a painting that’s all blue and you see specs of fire red. They pop out, right? You see them right away and you focus on them — and through them, you understand the rest of the painting, the blue.

    When a writer describes what a subject is not, they are using the back door technique. Here’s an example from her book: “The new secretary squeaked by his desk in crepe-soled oxfords. Marilyn Monroe, she was not.” Or it can be something as simple and as boring as “The secretary lacked grace.”

    The technique:

    — Is useful for situations normally dubbed cliche or cheesy

    — Can be used for things unworldly. Want to transcend everything and anything but don’t know how to describe it? Describe it by what it isn’t.

    — Can build suspense

    — Can serve as the build up that leads to a dramatic, but otherwise plain, direct description.

    Example: “The drawing may not have been a quality sketch. It wasn’t the work of a pro or even of an amateur. It wasn’t dark or gruesome. It wasn’t an accurate portrayal of their home life but it wasn’t scandalous enough to make her worry. But hanging from their refrigerator wall, her son’s classwork haunted her.”

    That’s pretty much it. I hope my explanation makes sense.

  14. #14 by Cat Woods on April 30, 2010 - 4:09 pm

    Okay, in the dystopian YA and MG arena:

    Unwind: Neil Schusterman. This book is about a world dealing with the right-to-life issue and how both sides are satisfied with the decision to “unwind” children. Obviously the kids don’t buy into it!

    The Hunger Games: Suzanne Collins. Post war world is divided into communities that put their children in a fight-to-the-death arena just to remind them that alliance to the powers that be is a good thing. Which it’s not.

    Among the Hidden and others in series : Margaret Pederson Haddix. China-esque in the idea of limiting the number of children we can have. This series targets the “never supposed to have been born” kids and their fight to survive. Or rather, their right to live.

    The Maze Runner: James Dashner. Authorities “steal” children and place them in a maze-like world of death and destruction. A survival of the fittest type book.

    Hope these help a little. Best luck in your reading research. It’s my favorite kind!

  15. #15 by Roz Morris on April 30, 2010 - 7:48 pm

    @Dominique – thanks for taking the trouble to write such a detailed description. Yes, that makes perfect sense – and it’s something I’ve done myself without thinking consciously about it. Nice reminder!
    @Cat – I LOVE UNWIND!!! I read it a few months ago and can’t stop thinking about it. I’ll definitely be devouring your other suggestions, whether they’re good for my WIP research or not!

  16. #16 by Dave Morris on April 30, 2010 - 11:37 pm

    City of Ember is about a society that runs on conformity, and how a couple of characters break out of that.

  17. #17 by Dominique on May 1, 2010 - 12:34 am

    No problem, Roz

  18. #18 by Virgin Novelist on May 1, 2010 - 7:32 pm

    I second a Handmaid’s Tale. And maybe Geek Love by Katherine Dunn?

  19. #19 by Roz Morris on May 1, 2010 - 11:25 pm

    @Virgin Novelist – well, well, Geek Love. That’s been a landmark on my shelves from many moons ago! Nice to connect with you!

  20. #20 by Lura on May 24, 2010 - 11:40 am

    I second “Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins. I heard so many rave reviews of this that I picked it up from the library despite it not sounding like something I would like. Then I couldn’t put it down! The sequel, “Catching Fire”, fits the theme as well. Katniss, the protagonist struggles with her personal identity through the first two books. Book 3 (“Mockingjay”) comes out this fall.

    Marisa V. Snyder’s new novel “Inside Out” sounds like it’ll be similar. I haven’t gotten to read it yet, but it was the first one to come to mind.

    Both of my recommendations are Young Adult. It’s what I’ve been reading lately. ^_^

    • #21 by Roz Morris on May 24, 2010 - 11:54 am

      Lura – I love YA too, it’s one of the most inventive storytelling genres. Definitely will have to look up Suzanne Collins and Marisa V Snyder. Thanks for your tips!

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