Back and forth: 5 novels featuring alternating narrators

By switching between each protagonist's perspective, we as the reader get a more in-depth look at the story, plus we get a more intimate look at each character.


Have you been reading along with the Cityline Book Club? One of the most compelling aspects of Brian Payton’s The Wind is Not a River is the alternating narrative structure between John’s mission to survive and Helen’s mission to find John. By switching back and forth between each protagonist’s perspective, we as the reader get a more in-depth look at the story, plus we get a more intimate look at each character. If you loved Payton’s use of this literary style, check out these five other novels that give you both sides of the story:

Chris Cleave, Little BeeAlternating chapter by chapter between Sarah, a British 30-something woman, and Little Bee, a 16-year-old Nigerian refugee girl, this captivating novel follows the reunion of these two women after a terrifying encounter on a Nigerian beach two years earlier. By switching between these two narrators, Cleave gives us an intimate look at two very different women trying to cope with unimaginable events. Both women are trying to find themselves (and save themselves), and, unexpectedly, they find some hope and connection within each other.

Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler’s Wife: Science fiction meets romance in this time-travelling love story, told in alternating first-person perspectives. In Niffenegger’s debut novel, we switch between Clare (an art student) and Henry (a librarian) who have known each other since Clare was six and Henry was 36, and were married when she was 23 and he was 31. Sounds impossible, but Henry has a rare disorder called Chrono-Displacement, which has him spontaneously misplaced in time, pulled to emotional moments from his past and future. Their attempts to live normal lives together is incredibly moving, and the alternating narrative styles gives great insight into each side of the relationship.

Rainbow Rowell, Eleanor & ParkDon’t dismiss this young adult novel — this story of two misfit teenagers who fall in love against the odds is sure to tug on your heartstrings, no matter what your age. Set over the course of one school year in 1986, Eleanor and Park’s unlikely relationship will bring you back to your own first love, and how desperately you believed it would also be your last. By alternating chapters told from each character’s point of view, the readers gets to know Eleanor and Park as they get to know each other, which adds so much to the beauty of this novel.

Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl: In this “he said”/”she said” tale of a marriage gone terribly wrong, the alternating narrative style keeps the reader on their toes, making it impossible to know which character to believe. On their 5th wedding anniversary, Nick’s wife Amy mysteriously disappears, and as the story unfolds from both partners’ point of view, neither character comes off looking particularly innocent. Why did Amy disappear? And did Nick have anything to do with it? This suspenseful read will keep its hold on you until the very last page.

John Green & David Levithan, Will Grayson, Will GraysonAuthors Green and Levithan collaborated on this hilarious and heartwarming story of two teens, both named Will Grayson. With each author taking on the narrative voice of each Will, each boy really takes on a distinct voice and its incredibly interesting to read how their lives begin to collide and intertwine But even though this entertaining and endearing novel gives you a double dose of Will Grayson, its the character of Tiny Cooper (one Will’s best friend and the other Will’s boyfriend) that will truly steal your heart with his insanely epic and absolutely fabulous high school musical production.

Have you read any great books with alternating narrators? We’d love to hear about them in the comments — share your faves below!

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