Good influences, bad influences – in my opinion, you need them both. The good ones give you a standard to uphold, something to which you can aspire. The bad ones show you the eventual downsides of all those things that look like great ideas today. When I was navigating my tumultuous teen years, I was better for having certain fictional characters sitting on my shoulder. So here’s a top-five list of people you’ll never meet, but should know all the same.
1. Albus Dumbledore
Odds are, you’ve met Hogwarts’ headmaster by now but, if you haven’t, this is your wake-up call. Sure, it’s called Harry Potter, so it’s not all about Dumbledore. But this professor is impressively omnipresent, and he’s not empty-handed: he offers really good advice with all the nonchalance and frequency as anyone else might offer gum. The best part? His own record isn’t squeaky clean – as he made his own bad choices as a teen – which keeps him from moralizing or lecturing outright. Not to mention that wicked sense of humor. He’s a brilliant, insane wizard; let him impart some wisdom (and madness) into your life.
2. Molly Weasley
I told myself I wouldn’t choose two or more characters from the same book, but you’ll all just have to get over it. I can wait. Here’s a picture in the meantime:
Poor Harry Potter, being an orphan himself and then finding out his best friend has the best mom EVER. Okay, so we see a lot of anger from Mrs. Weasley throughout the series, but would you want your children bewitching cars to fly and crashing them into violent willow trees? I didn’t think so. Molly’s ferocity comes from a place of deep love, a point that is proven over and over again throughout the books. And even with five children and a husband, Mollywobbles (haha) has room in her heart for Harry and treats him as she would a son. This means he isn’t above her ranting, but it also means she would defend and support him until her last breath.
3. Craig (Thompson)
Here’s one for the graphic novel lovers. Blankets is to some extent autobiographical, text and drawings by Craig Thompson. We follow him from his own isolation, dogged by religion and an aching desire to be a decent person, to his blossoming through love with a fellow loner. His ideas about what it might mean to be a good person, and the line society has drawn for him between right and wrong, are challenged. Craig is passionate as he is poetic, and as attuned to hidden meanings as he is to Raina’s surface beauty. He’s a perfect companion to those caught in the whirlwind that is first love.
4. Samantha Kingston
This little lady comes out of Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall. Samantha Kingston starts out as that girl you hated in high school – the one who thinks her good looks and popularity giver her license to walk all over everybody else to get whatever it is she can’t live without today: the perfect parking spot, a way out of an exam, someone else’s boyfriend. You know the drill. But you’ll be catching up with Sam on her last day alive. Together, you’ll relive that day over, and over, and over. Believe it or not, by the end Miss Kingston will have a lot of insight into herself, her peers, and life – why she is the way she is, and who the people she thought she knew really are. What’s important, and what isn’t worth thinking about. We could all use that fresh perspective now and again. Unlikely as it sounds, Sam will give it to you.
In Perks of Being a Wallflower, Charlie is about to start high school, and he’s excited and nervous. He decides to start writing letters to a person he doesn’t know very well – it might as well be you – to help himself sort out his own feelings. You will follow him as he struggles to participate in his own life, to take up space in the world without making decisions that are bad for him. He looks on as his friends do drugs, have sex, and shadowcast The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Something holds him back from being himself, being a whole person, and by and by you’ll find out what that something is. In the meantime, Charlie personifies the uncertainty we all felt as teens: can we fit in as we really are? How?
Who did I miss? What characters helped you get through young adulthood? How did they help you? Leave a comment!