Bookish Musings: What Age Protagonist Do You Prefer?

 
 
Last week I posted a discussion in which I asked whether you all prefer male or female protagonists and got some great insight and responses, so I thought it'd be interesting to do a post about age as well.

General consensus seems to be that we all just like characters who we relate to, characters who are likeable, and/or characters who have certain traits that we personally happen to like, regardless of gender and probably age too. But are there any specific ages you purposely avoid, any you seek out, and any you more often like than others?

Let's discuss!
 

 

My Preference

 

Usually the characters I like are the ones I can at least somewhat relate to. So, since I’m in my twenties, I prefer new adult and adult characters.

College-aged characters are kind of hit-or-miss because they sometimes come across as immature and thus are difficult for me to like and relate to, but they sometimes end up being the most relatable because they’re close to my age and kind of at a turning point in life I was at not too long ago. Even if it’s a fantasy book and they’re fighting monsters rather than attending classes, they’re still in a stage of life I can relate to, dealing with some of the same stress/confusion/fear/excitement/etc.

I feel like there aren’t a ton of books out there with protagonists who are in their mid to late twenties, but I love when I do find them because those are characters I usually relate to best since they’re usually past the craziness, insecurity, and newness of suddenly being an “adult,” but they’re still kind of figuring out life.

I’ve also always gotten along really with adults though ever since I was a kid/teen (yeah, I was that student who would end up having a conversation with the teacher rather than my fellow students half the time when we had free time in class, not because I was suck-up, just because that’s where I was most comfortable sometimes), so I also seem to connect well with characters who are older than me, even fairly drastically older. For example, when I read Water for Elephants, the most relatable character to me was the Old Jacob, the one living in the retirement home.

There are some teenage characters I’ve loved, so none of this is set in stone, but I just more often than not find myself kind of annoyed with their thoughts and decisions. Maybe I’m being too harsh because we all do some stupid things when we’re teenagers, and I do cut characters some slack because too much maturity just isn’t believable, but that still doesn’t mean it’s never annoying. And I really just don’t read about protags below the age of 14, so I don’t have much to say about child or pre-teen characters.

More Thoughts on the Matter

 

I feel like it’s probably a fairly common thing for us readers to most relate to characters who are close to our own age. That’s just often how life is in general. Kids relate to kids. Teens relate to teens. Adults relate to adults. You get the point.

But then again, as we get older, have we not experienced those younger ages? Shouldn’t we be able to relate to every age we’ve ever been? Clearly not everyone does, but some people seem to be able to understand relate to kids and teen really well.

There’s also the opposite—once we reach a certain age, a certain level of maturity, are we not generally able to relate to those older than us?

It also depends on every person’s life experiences, maturity, memories, etc.

And liking characters isn’t always about relating to them. For some people, relating to a character may not be a requirement at all. One of the greatest things about reading, in my opinion, is getting to experience new perspectives and POVs so that I can understand how other people think and feel and why they do the things they do. And reading about protagonists of different ages can be one way of doing that.

But of course, every single character is different, and whether we like them or not is highly dependent on how they’re written.

Anyway, I think that’s enough of my rambling—your turn!

 
 

Talk to me!

What age protagonist do you prefer?
Do you tend to gravitate toward characters who are close to your age?
Do you personally need to relate to a character in order to like them?

 

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Your Thoughts

 

40 thoughts on “Bookish Musings: What Age Protagonist Do You Prefer?

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  1. Heather

    I get frustrated with teenage protagonists sometimes because of the immaturity. Stupid decisions annoy me. I also don’t like it when teenagers automatically know better than everyone else in a book.
    Maybe it is because I’m old. πŸ˜€

    1. Kristen Burns

      Haha, nah, stupid decisions annoy me too :-P And it is annoying when the teenagers are always the ones who know everything are right, but, for me, that’s mostly because I’m annoyed at how ignorant and often unrealistic all the adults are being.

  2. Annika @ Hiding Books

    Hmmm. Tricky questions ;) Great topic, I find this really interesting as well! I think I tend to gravitate towards the younger spectrum of characters as well.. But teenagers do sometimes make me a bit irritated. It depends on if I feel like they’re similar to what I was like at that age, or if they’re spoiled brats, basically? Like, if I read about teenagers being all ‘oh, woe is me, my life is horrible’ but nothing’s really wrong, then I sort of get mad. I take things very personally haha

    I do find that as I get older I find it a lot easier to understand the older age ranges as well.
    I’ll keep thinking about this ;)

    Annika @ Hiding Books recently posted: When We Collided by Emery Lord

    1. Kristen Burns

      Oh, yes! I can’t believe I didn’t think of that. I also like teenage characters more if they’re similar to how I was *at that age.* Because then I feel like, even though I’ve matured and changed into who I am now, my teenage self can still relate! Especially if they do the awkward things I did, haha. But yeah, spoiled brat characters aren’t usually likeable. I too sometimes take it personally when characters act like their life is terrible but nothing is actually wrong! Lol. So I agree with your whole comment :-)

      1. Annika @ Hiding Books

        There’s always a little teenage us stuck somewhere inside so it makes sense, right? haha
        Seeing characters do the awkward things I did freaks me out. I want to think I wasn’t silly or ridiculous when I was younger but then I know I’m still silly and ridiculous so… It messes with my brain!

        Annika @ Hiding Books recently posted: Random Ramblings: Camp NaNo

        1. Kristen Burns

          Oh, see, I KNOW I did some ridiculously weird and awkward things as a teen, but I guess it doesn’t freak me out because they weren’t *bad* things, and they made me who I am today. So I’m glad I did them lol.

  3. Pamela

    I absolutely LOVE this post. I’ve been reading since I was 12, and I’ve discovered that I prefer reading about protagonists that are the same age as me or slightly older. When I was 12 I read about MCs who were 15 and 16, and so the age kept being pushed up until now I’ve outaged most YA MCs XD I’m 20 now and consider 18 and up my preferred ages for main characters now. Younger than that and I just can’t connect.

    1. Kristen Burns

      It’s funny, you mentioning that you’ve been reading since you were 12 just got me thinking about what I used to read when I was younger, and I think I was actually just a lot less picky about characters. I don’t think I cared about relating to characters, so long as the book overall was enjoyable. I mean, when I was 14, I was reading The Vampire Chronicles which had protagonists who were grown, immortal men lol, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t relate to them at all. But now I do like to relate to characters, and I agree that younger ones are the hardest for me.

      1. Pamela

        Haha, then it’s kinda my thing to prefer reading characters of my age or older. It was just so much more amazing! Reading about people around my age gave me things to relate to, but older characters were just exciting, I guess. It was like ‘OMG, these people do a lot of things without asking their parents for permission, or they are going to prom. I wonder how prom will be, or look they are getting married!’

        1. Kristen Burns

          Lol, what you’re saying makes perfect sense and is too cute. I think I read a lot of SFF by the time I was in high school, so I probably didn’t read about very many proms, haha. But I also think I might have been the odd one out with my reading habits as a teen :-P

  4. Becky @ A Fool's Ingenuity

    Now this is one I’ve not thought about as much. I tend to prefer my YA to be about older teens, preferably 16+ and I do enjoy a good book where you have a character in their twenties (any point in their twenties) as that is most relatable to me as I am in my twenties. That being said, though, I don’t care what age my main character is as long as I can relate to them. Age is not important, it’s the characters themselves I care about, if that makes sense?

    1. Kristen Burns

      It definitely makes sense! I feel the same way. I can like any character who’s written well, but I seem to have the best luck with characters in their 20s. And like you, I prefer older teenagers when I read YA.

  5. Greg

    I don’t really have a preference I guess although with fantasy I’d like to read about characters in their twenties instead of the teen that has to rise to the occasion blah blah. I think sometimes with YA I tend to “up” the age in my head. Like a protag might be a teen but I think of them as a bit older- I guess because it just doesn’t seem like someone that young would survive some of that stuff, you know? Depends on the book. I’ve read a few YA like that- the protag might be like 17 but I envision them as more like 20 or 22.

    As far as relating to a character, I think it’s easier if I can relate but I don’t have to. If the story is good and the character is nothing like me I can still enjoy it- it’s just a different perspective. Now if someone’s a stone cold killer that might be hard to relate to unless the author does a good job establishing why- so yeah. :) I do sometimes have a hard time relating if the character is unlikable- I just read a book like that where I didn’t like the MC so the stuff she did irritated me. I liked the book but didn’t love it :)

    Greg recently posted: Discount Armageddon

    1. Kristen Burns

      Hahaha I love that you just up the age in your head. I mean, I do agree that sometimes it’s not realistic, but I don’t think I’ve ever purposely upped a character’s age? There have definitely been times though when I thought the character was older only to find out later in the book that I was wrong, but by then it’s too late lol. Can’t be changing things that late in the game. And in one of my favorite series, the age of the characters doesn’t even actually make sense when you consider how much school the character would’ve gone through and then how long it would’ve taken him to get to where he is in his career. So yeah. I’ve upped all their ages.

      And I agree. It’s easier to like a character if I relate, but it’s not entirely necessary. And the same series I mentioned, I kind of hate the MC, but it’s still one of my favorite series. So apparently that can happen lol.

  6. Lola

    Usually I would say I don’t have a preference, but in what I read I do notice that I tend to gravitate to certain ages. I like reading stories with different ages for characters as each age also does bring it’s own perspective and trouble with it and I like to read about those different things, but lately I do notice I tend to read more adult books say compared to a year or 3 ago when i read way more YA. I also go through phases where I read more of one age category than another and then switch again and even if I read less YA now, I still read some YA books each month now.

    I do read all ae categories, MG to adult and have found books in each of those that I enjoy. It also depends a bit on my mood, sometimes I am just in the mood for a MG or YA book. Each age categories does bring it’s own things that I like. While sometimes a young character can make me remember how I was at that age it can also mean it’s more difficult to relate to the character, especially when you have nothing else in common either. I also enjoy reading about characters that are older than me, even though I haven’t been in that stage of my life yet. I have read almost no books about really old people though, so I can’t really say what I think about those. Although they sometimes are side characters.

    And yes sometimes it’s the fun of experiencing a new point of view. Or when I share some characteristics with a character I can relate to them no matter their age. So there are also other aspects that influence that. I do like to be able to relate to characters, although it isn’t a necessity. Great post Kristen!

    1. Kristen Burns

      I guess I never really thought it about that way, that each age group has its own troubles and things that go along with it and therefore each one offers different things. And that’s interesting that you go through phases. I think I tend to vary often, rather than go through phases, or I just get too fed up. Like, sometimes after a few adult books, I’ll be in the mood for a YA book to kind balance things out, or vice versa. So even though I don’t go through phases, I get the mood thing.

      That’s another good point, that when you don’t really have anything in common with a character AND you’re completely different ages, then you kind of have no way to connect. If you were similar ages, then that would at least be something. But yeah, overall, I agree that the age isn’t important as long as I can relate! Thanks :-)

  7. Nicola

    I’m in my mid-twenties, and in general I tend to prefer characters between about 16 and 35, but it depends a lot on the world and individual circumstances. If there’s a 35-year-old housewife in a book, for instance, I might relate to her 15-year-old kid more than I do to her, but if she’s a doctor or demon-slayer then I’ll probably relate to her more. Likewise, I’m more likely to relate to teens in SF/F because they tend to be more mature than in contemporaries, and they’re often puzzling out some of the same big questions about life I faced not too long ago.

    It’s interesting that you mention teenagers who make stupid decisions. There are undoubtedly times in YA – as well as in NA or general fic – when the characters do such stupid things it’s just plain frustrating but most of the time one of the things I love about YA *is* the “stupid decisions”. When a character does something foolish for the right reasons, or makes the situation worse because s/he didn’t think things through, that’s like my kryptonite. I LOVE watching characters screw things up and have to try to fix it. I guess I’m just a little sadistic? ;)

    Of course, the key element here is that the character (or at least the narrative) ends up recognising it was foolish and s/he has to have other sympathetic qualities. If s/he just stumbles into stupid decision after stupid decision without anything changing, then I do get fed up very quickly. A really good example of this done well is Morgan Rhodes’ FALLING KINGDOMS series; all the main characters do stupid things, and they all have to deal with the fallout.

    Nicola recently posted: Tropes I Love and Hate

    1. Kristen Burns

      Oh, that’s a good point that I never thought about. I agree that the situation is definitely important in terms of relating because I too would probably be more likely to relate to the 15-year-old than the 35-year-old housewife. And actually I don’t think I ever thought about the way SFF characters are more mature, but you’re right, they often are. Yet another reason to love SFF lol.

      Haha, see, I love discussion posts because I love finding things like this out about people. That’s interesting that you like when YA characters make foolish decisions. I mean, it really depends on the circumstance for me too. If I can truly understand WHY the character made that decision, or if I can see myself making the same decision in that situation, then it doesn’t bother me. But the bad decisions characters make because they want to “fit in” or because they’re just immature are too bothersome to me.

  8. Daniela Ark

    Since I’m still a kid Blogger I like YA *wink*

    Even though I RME at them often I do ADORE THEM. Why? I think it is because I like fantasy and it is hard to fly on a dragon toward a sunset of two suns in a distant planet is HARD when you are adulting. :)

    So I think YA characters happen to be perfect for fantasy adventures :)

    That doesn’t mean I don’t like adult characters of all genres and that they don’t have their place in fantasy as powerful wizards, witches, ancient vampires, yummy werewolves (oops did I say that out loud? lol) I just like the AWE that YA characters experience when facing the challenges the author throws at them since often is their first time. I love their candor and vulnerability :)

    I’m definitely one of those people that “seem to be able to understand relate to kids and teen really well” that why I love working with kids

    Great post Kristen!

    1. Kristen Burns

      Hmmm, I actually have to disagree about YA characters being better for fantasy. Thought it might depend on the subgenre. Since you mentioned flying away on dragons lol, maybe YA characters are better for high fantasy? But I still like my adult characters in paranormal and urban :-)

      Yummy werewolves? No, no, no. I think you meant yummy vampires ;-) (Are we gonna have to throw down over this?) Lol I understand what you’re saying though about why you like the YA characters facing things for the first time. And see, you probably just understand kids and teens better than I do! Thanks :-)

    1. Kristen Burns

      Ok I will concede that in that particular show he was probably the best character. But only the Twilight vampires sparkle! Literally in the 50-100 vampire books I’ve read, those were the only ones lol. You can’t hold that against the rest of the vampires!

  9. Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    Okay, well, I have a totally different perspective on this because I am WAY older than the characters I like reading most often. Even though I’m 42, I seldom read books with protagonists older than their 20s. I know this might seem somewhat strange, but for some reason books with main characters who are my age just don’t generally appeal to me. Maybe because I’m already living with the daily stuff of a household and marriage and kids – and I tend to like to read a bit more for escapism. Ironically, when I was younger, YA wasn’t a thing, so I read adult characters all the time in my teens – now I read about teens. LOL! And, for the most part, I’m pretty happy with that. (Though sometimes characters can be a bit TOO immature for my liking – but that doesn’t happen incredibly often.)

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction recently posted: The Series Dilemma – Let’s Discuss

    1. Kristen Burns

      I like your different perspective! It’s easy for me to find people at least somewhat close to my age, but you’re right, there just aren’t a whole lot of book with characters above their 20s going on adventures and whatnot. I know I’ve seen a few here and there, but it’s definitely rare. So it makes sense that you like to read about younger characters. I never actually considered that. That is kind of ironic though that as a teen you read about adults and as an adult you read about teens lol. I guess my reading habits haven’t changed too much since I read about both then and I read about both now, haha.

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  11. Mara @ Mara Was Here

    I rarely ever read protagonists that aren’t around my age (I’m 15 at the moment), so I’ve been reading a ton of YA books these past few years. Sometimes I try out Middle Grade books as well, and I love them. I’ve also tried New Adult books, but I’m picky about those kinds of novels. Sometimes I can’t relate to them, so it’s hard to really get myself interetsed to the story. (Plus some cover topics that are somewhat to adult-ish or serious for my taste.) Then again, there are some NA books that sucked me in because of their amusing protagonists and/or characters, but I can only name quite a few.

    Maybe as I grow older, I’ll come to appreciate more NA, Adult and Chick-Lit novels, but for now I’ll just stick to MG and YA. :) Great post!

    1. Kristen Burns

      That makes complete sense. Aside from Anne Rice, I read almost entirely YA in high school. I don’t even know if NA was really a genre at that point? But I know I didn’t read it lol.

      I feel like you might start to like adult novels as you get older since it’s easier to relate once you get to the age of the characters, you know? I didn’t really start reading NA and adult until a few years ago. But obviously lots of people still read YA and even MG (myself included, though MG is VERY occasional for me) no matter how old they get!

  12. Bookworm Brandee

    This is a great topic and I’m glad you tackled it. :) I don’t think I prefer a particular age over any other. I do find a story resonates more if the characters are closer to my age because they’ve experienced some of the same things I have or are currently experiencing them as part of the story. But I’m in my 40’s and there aren’t many characters that are my age. :/ I also enjoy reading YA though and did even before my kids hit their teens. I think I enjoy that there is so much more on offer to teens these days than when I was a teen. *ha* And I also enjoy NA because it’s nice (sometimes) to relive those years through others. I will say that when I read YA or NA, I do take a step back and look at their behavior through an ‘older’ lens and take into account their age when they’re making decisions or behaving in ways that grate. I remember that I didn’t have all my sh!t together when I was that age even if I did have to grow up early. I’m not necessarily as forgiving of older characters because I think they should know better by now. *ha*
    I hope my rambling makes some sense. Sorry I’m behind in commenting, but your topics won’t allow me to not come back to comment on them. :D

    1. Kristen Burns

      Yeah, there just aren’t a lot of characters in their 30s and 40s, at least not in books that involve fun and adventure and whatnot, and I never really thought about that. I guess I was lucky since they did have YA by the time I was a teen, though there wasn’t *as much* as there is now. I used to walk through the YA section of bookstore going, “Read that, read that, read that, read that, read that whole section…” lol because I read so much, and the stores always had the same books.

      I do try to be lenient with YA characters. When I read reviews, I sometimes feel like readers expect WAY too much out of teenage characters. Making mistakes or having some immaturity is realistic. But as someone else mentioned, I find that a lot easier to relate or be lenient when the characters are similar to how I was as a teen. Some are just far too immature. But like you, I am more lenient on teens than adults in books I think.

      And no worries about being behind on commenting, I love your comments regardless of when you get around to leaving them :-)

  13. Molly @ Molly's Book Nook

    Since I read a lot of YA, there aren’t a lot of books I read with people around my age. Even if they are closer to my age, they’re not married or know what they want to do with their life. So, I don’t really relate fully to teenagers, college student or books with adults. BUT, since I was a teenager and college student at one point in my life (duh), I find I can relate easily to the characters in YA. I mean, I’ve been there. As for adult or new adult, I find it a little more difficult just because of what struggles the character is usually going through. Sure, they’re older, but I’m already somewhat established, at least I know what I want. Most of the time, that’s not the case with the NA that I’ve read. I think it all depends on what issues the characters are facing, not so much their age, but there is sort of a theme of the same type of struggles each age group faces in books. If any of that made any sense… haha

    Molly @ Molly's Book Nook recently posted: Feminine Roles & The Strong Female Character

    1. Kristen Burns

      That makes sense, relating to characters based on their situations rather than their ages. I mean, I guess I don’t necessarily do it that way? But it still makes sense. And I do relate to characters kind of based on their mindsets, maturity, etc., and I think that’s kind of also what you’re saying? It’s just that I find 20+ year old characters to most often be similar to my mindset.

        1. Kristen Burns

          Ooh I like how you phrased that, that you “relate to how they’re handling it.” That’s definitely a big part of it for me. Most of the characters I read about are doing things like fighting off paranormal creatures or venturing through Hell or other various things I have never done lol. But if characters handle situations in the same way that I feel that I would, or a way that’s at least understandable to me, I relate to them more. The ones who handle them in ridiculous ways are the ones I also want to shake :-P

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  15. Cait @ Paper Fury

    It’s hilarious for me because I’m COMPLETELY opposite to you! I way relate more to characters who are younger than me. (I think I mentally stopped ageing at 17 sometimes πŸ˜‚ πŸ˜‚) Even though I’m 22, every time I read a book about a character in their twenties I just…nope. I don’t relate at all. Except for VE Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic. <333 Not that I relate, particularly, but I love those characters so so much and they're actually my age. πŸ˜‚ EEEP. That's a first!
    But yeah! I actually really enjoy from 15 to 18 basically. That's what I want to read about. I'm not very good with MG though, with the 12 year old characters. i just never relate at all, which is weird. I usually find MG to condescending? BUT ANYWAY.
    I loved this post! SUCH a good discussion topic!

    1. Kristen Burns

      Haha you are the opposite of me. But we all have different taste, so it’s all good! I pretty much don’t read middle grade, with rare exception. I try to stay age 14 and above. So I don’t really know if middle grade is condescending? I’m pretty sure the last legit MG I read with anyone younger than 14 was probably Flipped, and I actually really liked that one, but it seemed like kind of an exception as far as MG goes. And thank you!

  16. Kayla Marie

    Teenagers and girls annoy me TO DEATH – which is a little weird if you think about it because I am a teenager… and a girl soooo… yeah. Doesn’t make sense.

    Like I view them as my rivals and therefore hate them – even though they are fictional and therefore harmless. I mean, they can’t hurt me – so why do I hate them so much?!?

    Kids can be annoying or AMAZING – depending on how it’s done. Bridge to Terabithia and North To Freedom are two books that feature AWESOME child-protagonists. On the other hand, I did NOT like Jonas from The Giver.

    So there ya have it:)

    1. Kristen Burns

      I’m also a girl, but I tend to like male characters better, so I don’t think it’s all that weird :-P And of course it depends on how the characters are written since teenage characters often end up annoying a lot of people when they’re written badly. Maybe instead of seeing them as rivals you could put yourself in their shoes or find your similarities? I usually like characters better when I can actually relate to something about them. Then again maybe you just connect to other types of characters better.

      I haven’t read a whole lot of books with kid protags, but I didn’t much care for Jonas either. If the characters in Flipped count as kids (can’t remember their ages), well, I liked that book :-)

      Thanks for joining in!

      1. Kayla Marie

        Ohhh… I do TRY to put myself in their shoes – but I end up just seeing how differently I would do things than they are doing them? Like, WHAT THE HECK is wrong with you, girl? Why don’t you do things the way I would do them?

        Oh well. I try:)

        1. Kristen Burns

          Lol when a characters thoughts or actions just seem completely illogical to you, like, the opposite of what you would do, it can be just plain aggravating. But sometimes, if their motives or whatever are explained well enough, I can at least understand even if I disagree. Maybe you just haven’t found the right books with the kinds of characters you relate to? I’m sure you’ll start finding some characters you relate to eventually!