A Character List by Shelley Timms
Growing up, I had a hard time identifying with characters in the books I was reading. For me reading was, and still is, escapism. The worlds in which I delve into are often far removed from my own, the stories separated from my own life by fantasy, history, or a fascination with true crime. As a kid, I would find myself searching for role models; strong, intelligent and like-minded women that sometimes felt out of place in their own environments. Often, I did not find them. Perhaps it was the content that I was reading (growing up in a small town with a minimal budget and a not-so-extensive library can do that!) or perhaps it was because in those days the diversity that we are beginning to see now simply did not exist. I would have loved to read about characters that dealt with body image, anxiety and sexuality, so I could have made sense of my experiences during adolescence.
Upon reaching back into my mental library of characters I have met and fallen in love with over my 22 years, I found a few that resonated with me.
Eloise, Eloise at the Plaza by Kay Thompson
This was the first person that came to mind when considering characters that have stuck with me for a long time. So much so that Eloise is going to be the name of my first daughter! Effervescent, cheeky and full of life, Eloise is a character that certainly reflects the personality of a younger, more mischievous Shelley. The dishevelled hair, untucked shirt and confidence that only a six-year-old can get away with was one of my trademarks as a child, and my mum could fill a book with the escapades I got up to growing up.
Embodying quote: “I always say what’s in my head. It makes everything much easier.”
Temperance Brennan, the ‘Bones’ series by Kathy Reichs
I started reading the ‘Bones’ series quite young, when my mum began to buy the books to supplement our watching of the television show. While the book series was probably not appropriate for an adolescent, I had grown up with a fascination with crime and forensics, and to see a woman in such a field was fascinating to me. Brennan was unapologetic and straight to the point, and I admired her intelligence. While the books differ from the television show, the character of Brennan was one of my first true role models and inspired me to study hard and get into university. I was originally going to study psychology and dabble in forensics, but my passion for writing won!
Embodying quote: “The world is rife with evil and misfortune, but it also full of good people determined to right wrongs. I would not sink into sadness. I would celebrate those who refuse to give up.”
Eleanor, Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
I simply adored this book when I read it for the first time a few years ago. The story of two teenagers, so astronomically different and yet perfect for each other, falling in love and having that taken away from them was truly heartbreaking. Eleanor, with her red hair and strange taste in clothes, doesn’t fit in at her high school. Her experiences in the book often mirrored my own high school experiences and reading from her perspective made me think back to how it felt to be an awkward, hormonal teenager again. I remember riding the bus every day, putting my headphones in and shutting the world out, trying to be as invisible as possible to avoid the unwanted attention of the ‘cool kids’. I would admire boys from afar, being so painfully shy that I couldn’t even manage a smile if they looked my way. While Eleanor isn’t a role model to me, she is someone I connected with and felt attached to while reading the book.
Embodying quote: “Eleanor was right. She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.”
Henry “Monty” Montague, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzie Lee
While I don’t typically find myself relating to male characters in the books I read, I fell in love with Monty’s characterisation and development over the course of A Gentleman’s Guide. I listened to the audiobook, read by Christian Coulson (Tom Riddle in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets!). It follows Monty, his close friend Percy, and his sister Felicity on a year-long escapade through Europe in the 1700s and is filled with hedonistic indulgence, sexual tension, and amazing character development. I found the representation of Monty as a bisexual character refreshing, and I think it is the reason I found myself so attached to him as a character. I have not come across representation such as this in a way that is as well done as it is here, and I often find bisexual representation to be of the exploitative, purely sexual kind. For Monty, his sexuality is necessary to the plot and you see him struggle with his peers accepting the fact that he is interested in men. As someone who is not necessarily “out” and finds their sexuality to be peripheral to their identity, I found Monty to be someone I could relate to in that sense.
Embodying Quote: “I’ve always been of the mind that subtlety is a waste of time. Fortune favours the flirtatious.”