Oddballs, Weirdos and Misfits…Why We Love Them

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Oddballs, weirdos, misfits and outsiders…they’re a literary motif for the ages.  They allow the dominant to dominate, they’re the counter example we need to make the hero seem strong and brave. Without an oddball, who would be the object of ridicule?   It’s their job to get shoved into lockers and lose the girl in the end.  We need them to demonstrate what’s normal and what’s decidedly not.

Most of us didn’t dream of being misfits when we grew up.  Who would? They stick out and they almost always suffer the consequences of their strangeness.   Yet we love to root for them even if we don’t want to be them.  But why?  Studies have shown it could be anything from schadenfreude, the joy we experience at the failure of others, to a desire to see justice and equality in the world.  My guess is, that it’s because most of us find it much easier to identify with the outsider than we’d like to admit.  

Whatever the reason, I take every chance I get to celebrate outsiders. I never tire of seeing my not so perfect self reflected in a literary character as they triumph over the bad guy.  It’s even better when it’s their very weirdness that allows them to win in the end.  

If like me you always root for the oddball, check out these works of fiction + one title to help you navigate being an outsider yourself!

Everybody Sees the Ants

Overburdened by his parents’ bickering and a bully’s attacks, fifteen-year-old Lucky Linderman begins dreaming of being with his grandfather, who went missing during the Vietnam War, but during a visit to Arizona, his aunt and uncle and their beautiful neighbor, Ginny, help him find a new perspective.

Bone Gap

An eighteen-year-old outsider in a quiet Midwestern town is the only witness to the abduction of the town favorite, but his inability to distinguish between faces makes it difficult for him to help with the investigation, and subjects him to even more ridicule and bullying.

Ask the Passengers

Astrid Jones desperately wants to confide in someone, but her mother’s pushiness and her father’s lack of interest tell her they’re the last people she can trust. Instead, Astrid spends hours lying on the backyard picnic table watching airplanes fly overhead. She doesn’t know the passengers inside, but they’re the only people who won’t judge her when she asks them her most personal questions . . . like what it means that she’s falling in love with a girl. As her secret relationship becomes more intense and her friends demand answers, Astrid has nowhere left to turn. She can’t share the truth with anyone except the people at thirty thousand feet, and they don’t even know she’s there. But little does Astrid know just how much even the tiniest connection will affect these strangers’ lives–and her own–for the better. In this truly original portrayal of a girl struggling to break free of society’s definitions, Printz Honor author A.S. King asks readers to question everything –and offers hope to those who will never stop seeking real love.

All the Bright Places

The Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor and Park in this exhilarating and heart-wrenching love story about a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die. Soon to be a major motion picture starring Elle Fanning! Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him. Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death. When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself–a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink. This is an intense, gripping novel perfect for fans of Jay Asher, Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Gayle Forman, and Jenny Downham from a talented new voice in YA, Jennifer Niven.

Eleanor and Park

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits-smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love-and just how hard it pulled you under.

Hello Cruel World, 101 Alternatives to Teen Suicide

Celebrated transsexual trailblazer Kate Bornstein has, with more humor and spunk than any other, ushered us into a world of limitless possibility through a daring re-envisionment of the gender system as we know it. Here, Bornstein bravely and wittily shares personal and unorthodox methods of survival in an often cruel world. A one-of-a-kind guide to staying alive outside the box, Hello, Cruel World is a much-needed unconventional approach to life for those who want to stay on the edge, but alive.