Please welcome debut YA Thriller author Amanda Panitch to Murder She Writes!
For my tenth birthday, one of my friends gave me a diary. It latched shut with a flimsy metal key, which meant it wasn’t open like the notebooks in which I wrote my self-insert Harry Potter fanfiction (Ron Weasley was, naturally, madly in love with me). I could keep my words secret.
My first entry was penned that night. My first lie, too.
That’s right: even though I was writing in my private diary, chronicling my life in detail from ages ten to seventeen, I proceeded to lie incessantly. To myself. I told my diary, in flowing purple ink, that I hadn’t cared at all when Courtney invited all the other band kids to her party except me and my friends (I’d cried). I said that I’d been such good friends with Sam, a popular cheerleader, that I’d once roomed with her on a Girl Scout trip to Niagara Falls (we’d been assigned rooms, and Sam had barely spoken to me at all).
Older Me, when I found the diary during an excavation of my childhood room, remembered well that my purple pen was lying. And it fascinated me, because I couldn’t remember why I’d made myself an unreliable narrator of my own life. Had I been trying to make my version of events the truth—like if I wrote it down, that would be the record that stood the test of time? Or was I writing for Older Me, who presumably would lose her memory so she’d be able to marvel about how cool I was, and unquestionably not lonely and pathetic?
So began my fascination with unreliable narrators. There’s GONE GIRL, the big one, where the narrators are lying to the reader, and the other big one, WE WERE LIARS, where the narrator might not purposefully mislead the reader but does so nonetheless. THE LAST GOOD DAY OF THE YEAR by Jessica Warman, a recent favorite, in which the narrator remembers what happens the night her sister went missing… or is she mistaken? I loved YOU by Carolyn Kepnes and INLAND by Kat Rosenfeld, both which feature narrators with a warped sense of reality, and the brilliant FALLING INTO PLACE by Amy Zhang, in which we don’t know for much of the book who the narrator even is. I see a little bit of myself in each of these narrators, and I think that’s part of the appeal.
And so that’s how Julia Vann, the protagonist of my novel DAMAGE DONE, was born. She’s calling herself Lucy Black and telling everybody that she’s definitely not the only survivor of a school shooting done by her twin brother half a state away. One day, she notices she’s being followed by her brother’s old psychologist. Lies spin off of lies—to her friends, to her stalker, and to the reader. Julia is as unreliable a narrator as I was, but there’s a lot more at stake than parties or friendships—or even the heart of Ron Weasley.
What say you? Yeah or nay to unreliable narrators? Depends on how it’s done? What’s your favorite unreliable narrator story?