Book List

The Truth is Relative: 10 Unreliable Narrators

June 19, 2017
Jess Harold
Riveted Editorial Board

Lies are an essential part of storytelling. No first-person narrator can catch all the important details that will lead to an exciting and satisfying end to their adventure. But some narrators are intentional with their lies, hoping to make their plight more sympathetic to the reader. Everyone sees themselves as the hero of their story, and with the right storytelling tools, a well-written narrator can garner sympathy for their actions. (Remember how convinced we Harry was that Hagrid was the Heir of Slytherin, thanks to a diary with very selective memory?)

In Here Lies Daniel Tate, Daniel is a magnetic, talented, and desperate con artist who has stumbled into the scam of a lifetime. Assuming the identity of long missing boy, Daniel Tate, he is no longer at the mercy of the foster care system, and gains the security of a home and a family that loves him. But he soon discovers his new home is more sinister than it seemed on the surface…and the Daniel he has replaced might not be missing at all.

I loved this book because the odds are stacked against fake Daniel ever being seen as trustworthy. His own backstory gives more insight as to why lies are so a part of his nature, and it’s certainly easy to feel real sympathy for his plight. But looking back, it was pretty difficult to separate the fact from the fiction of Daniel’s story. His lies blend so seamlessly with the truth. I missed my stop on the train twice when I read [REDACTED].

So if you love sifting through lies and deception, I highly recommend reading the extended excerpt of Here Lies Daniel Tate and any of of these great books with unreliable narrators!

Lolitaby Vladmir Nabakov

Awe and exhilaration—along with heartbreak and mordant wit—abound in Lolita, Nabokov’s most famous and controversial novel, which tells the story of the aging Humbert Humbert’s obsessive, devouring, and doomed passion for the nymphet Dolores Haze.

Don’t let anyone romanticize Humbert Humbert’s very unhealthy and very creepy obsession with his twelve-year-old stepdaughter, especially Humbert Humbert!



The Unbecoming of Mara Dyerby Michelle Hodkin

Mara Dyer doesn’t think life can get any stranger than waking up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there.

Reading this series is now one of my friendship requirements.With Mara, you never really know whether you’re reading a dream, a hallucination, or a memory. 

Liarby Justine Larbalestier

Micah is a liar. That’s the one thing she won’t lie about. Over the years, she’s duped her classmates, her teachers, and even her parents. But when her boyfriend Zach dies under brutal circumstances, Micah sets out to tell the truth.

Micah is a compulsive liar, so get ready for lots of #AlternateFacts as the story progresses

The Catcher in the Ryeby J.D. Salinger

Since his debut in 1951 as The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield has been synonymous with “cynical adolescent.” Holden narrates the story of a couple of days in his sixteen-year-old life, just after he’s been expelled from prep school, in a slang that sounds edgy even today and keeps this novel on banned book lists.

A literary classic. Turns out it takes one (phony) to know one!

Atonementby Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan’s symphonic novel of love and war, childhood and class, guilt and forgiveness provides all the satisfaction of a brilliant narrative and the provocation we have come to expect from this master of English prose.

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, hold off! (Download the soundtrack, though. Dario Martianelli’s scores are EVERYTHING.) The reveal at the end of this truly heartbreaking story is so worth the read. Part III will leave you weeping, throwing the book across the room, or both. Guaranteed.

Dangerous Girlsby Abigail Haas

Paradise in Aruba quickly gets gruesome in this “ripped-from-the-headlines thriller (Kirkus Reviews)” with a twist that defies the imagination.

A holiday in the sun goes horribly wrong in this teen courtroom drama. Be prepared, the last fifty pages of this story are WILD!

If You Come Softlyby Jacqueline Woodson

Jeremiah feels good inside his own skin. That is, when he’s in his own Brooklyn neighborhood. But now he’s going to be attending a fancy prep school in Manhattan, and black teenage boys don’t exactly fit in there. So it’s a surprise when he meets Ellie the first week of school. In one frozen moment their eyes lock and after that they know they fit together — even though she’s Jewish and he’s black. Their worlds are so different, but to them that’s not what matters. Too bad the rest of the world has to get in their way.

This is a beautifully written story about interracial relationships told in dual perspectives. After reading the prologue, you know it doesn’t end happily ever after, so again, tissues. The violent and devastating ending will make you reread the book, looking for clues. 

Dead to Youby Lisa McMann

Ethan was abducted from his front yard when he was just seven years old. Now, at sixteen, he has returned to his family. It’s a miracle… at first. Then the tensions start to build. His reintroduction to his old life isn’t going smoothly, and his family is tearing apart all over again. If only Ethan could remember something, anything, about his life before, he’d be able to put the pieces back together. But there’s something that’s keeping his memory blocked. Something unspeakable..

What is it that Ethan can’t remember? And will that secret ruin everything? This book will have you feeling raw and emotional at the end by throwing you a twist you never saw coming. You might think you know what’s going to happen, but you’re probably wrong. 

Perks of Being a Wallflowerby Stephen Chbosky

Charlie is a freshman. And while he’s not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years yet socially awkward, he is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it.

Charlie also has a secret. It seeps into every aspect of what he does, but you don’t always realize it’s there. What is the secret? And what actions have been a result of this secret? You’ll only know if you read it (or watch the movie…but definitely read it too). 

We Were Liarsby E. Lockhart

A beautiful and distinguished family.

A private island.

A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.

A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.

A revolution.

An accident.

A secret.

Lies upon lies.

True love.

The truth.

You can’t believe anything anyone says. After all, even the title tells you they’re liars. When no one can be trusted, how do you determine what’s fact and what’s fiction? Maybe you don’t.

2 Responses to The Truth is Relative: 10 Unreliable Narrators

  1. alyssayuri says:

    I totally agree to this… In HLDT, I truly seeped in what the narrator is saying… Even after reading it, it never occured to me that he was an unreliable narrator. It was just written so intensely and believable.

    Also, I love this list. *sigh* i’m telling you guys, it’s your fault why I’m adding more books to my unending TBR pile. I’m still thanking you though 😂

  2. sonate10 says:

    You found a. Ew author for Lolita, I see! Vladmir Nabakov? Who is he? I know Vladimir Nabokov. Your secretary tried to spell it after principle “how I hear it”?

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