The best novels with subversive main characters that speak to us

Sonja Griffing Author Of A Butter Brickle Debacle
By Sonja Griffing

Who am I?

My writing motto is life & love in between the margins of a page. I believe that every character has a story that matters, so I write fully realized protagonists with real-life issues and life-defining relationships. I want my readers to see parts of themselves in my stories, and while I can’t write everybody, I can recommend the following character-driven books. Subversive means ‘seeking to undermine the power and authority of an established system.’ All these titles have characters that break the mold. They are unapologetically fat or queer. They are criminals and lore. They are trope-twisters and game-changers and everything you want in a well-written and satisfying tale.


I wrote...

A Butter Brickle Debacle

By Sonja Griffing,

Book cover of A Butter Brickle Debacle

What is my book about?

When you're used to everything going wrong, how can you recognize what’s right? Unjustly fired from her big city PR job, Eris McMillan agrees to nanny her toddler and preteen nieces in small-town Beech Bay. Sure, she has a history of disasters in her wake and knows nothing about kids, but she’s big and bold and determined to use this time to rebuild her career. 

Fortunately, the town's favorite son, Treat Rogers, needs her help to save his family's ice cream shop from her ex-boyfriend's corporation. If she can outsmart her ex and save Treat's business without her usual mishaps, she may salvage her career. That is if she can avoid the biggest disaster of all: falling for Treat. Contains: fat main characters

The books I picked & why

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Carry On

By Rainbow Rowell,

Book cover of Carry On

Why this book?

Carry On is the ultimate work of subversive literature. Not only does Rainbow Rowell brilliantly parody the most popular series of wizarding fiction ever written, but she turns it on its head. Simon is about the least likely ‘chosen one’ ever and Baz is an arch nemesis with some surprising secrets. This book takes everything you expect from the genre and makes it even better. It’s like fanfiction come to life with a story that steals your imagination, characters that stick with you forever, and lines that make your heart stall, dip, and pound in your chest. This beautiful piece of writing about finding love and finding self reminded me to keep looking for answers in unexpected places. 

Contains: LGBTQI+ main characters

Carry On

By Rainbow Rowell,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Carry On as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

#1 New York Times best seller!
Booklist Editors’ Choice 2015 - Youth!
Named a "Best Book of 2015" by Time Magazine, School Library Journal, Barnes & Noble, NPR, PopSugar, The Millions, and The News & Observer!

Simon Snow is the worst Chosen One who's ever been chosen.

That's what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he's probably right.

Half the time, Simon can't even make his wand work, and the other half, he starts something on fire. His mentor's avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there's…


All the Feels

By Olivia Dade,

Book cover of All the Feels

Why this book?

As someone who spent her first 30+ years in a smaller body and the past decade in a fat body, I have experienced the differences in how people are treated in relation to body size and have seen that mirrored in literature. Fat jokes and fatphobia run rampant, and fat characters are portrayed as bullies, loud, or lazy. When main characters, their goals tend to focus on weight loss and food shaming. Enter—quite joyfully—Olivia Dade and her fat heroines. In All the Feels, the main character Lauren is capable, confident, and sexy. This hilarious and steamy rom-com doesn’t focus on Lauren’s size but on her journey. It’s swoon-worthy, heart-warming, and exactly what every person in a fat body needs to remind themselves that size is only a descriptor.

Contains: fat main characters

All the Feels

By Olivia Dade,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked All the Feels as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'An absolutely witty, swoon worthy behind the scenes romp! Delightful from beginning to end!' Julie Murphy, No.1 New York Times bestselling author of Dumplin'

Olivia Dade returns with another utterly charming romantic comedy about a devil-may-care actor - who cares more than anyone knows - and the no-nonsense woman hired to keep him in line.

Alexander Woodroe has it all. Charm. Wealth. A starring role on the biggest show on TV. But the showrunners have wrecked his character, he's hounded by old demons and his future remains uncertain. When all that reckless emotion explodes into a bar fight, the tabloids…


Six of Crows

By Leigh Bardugo,

Book cover of Six of Crows

Why this book?

As readers, we are often presented with the ‘good guys’ as our main characters. Those slightly imperfect protagonists brimming with justifiable righteousness and honorable intentions. In Six of Crows, the main characters are all criminals. Through their stories, we learn that even murderers have a moral compass, that lawbreakers have valid reasons, and that the irredeemable have value. This heist story, touched by magic, taught me to look beyond surface and background and see the soul of the person beneath. It’s about friendship, love, adventure, and surviving the worst that life throws at you. Truly, a book you’ll never forget.

Contains: atypical main characters

Six of Crows

By Leigh Bardugo,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked Six of Crows as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

*See the Grishaverse come to life on screen with Shadow and Bone, now a Netflix original series.*

Nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2017, this fantasy epic from the No. 1 NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author of the Grisha trilogy is gripping, sweeping and memorable - perfect for fans of George R. R. Martin, Laini Taylor and Kristin Cashore.

Criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams - but he can't pull it off alone.

A convict with a thirst for revenge.
A sharpshooter who can't walk…


Krampus and the Kolaches

By J.D. Douwes,

Book cover of Krampus and the Kolaches

Why this book?

I picked this book because what can be more subversive than a main character who wants to send a child to hell for Christmas? In Krampus and the Kolaches, JD Douwes sets Krampus in the middle of Seattle for a holiday singing contest that goes off the rails when he sets his sights on a rotten little boy and accidentally meets a far-from-typical love interest. Khalie is a snarky young woman who is somewhere short of bright and kind, but you find yourself rooting for her anyway. This book is just fun. I’ve rarely read two less likely main characters/love interests, yet I found it all worked so delightfully. I am a sucker for holiday romance, and this once checked all the boxes for me but did it in a way that was fresh and far different from the norm.

Contains: atypical main characters/Krampus

Krampus and the Kolaches

By J.D. Douwes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Krampus and the Kolaches as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Khalie, an avid Krampus-ofile, finally has her chance to sing at a Christmas Caroling Competition. With her loser boyfriend dressed as Krampus and her ghost-hunting friends at her side, what could go wrong? Except, her friend's juvenile delinquent kid keeps running away and messing everything up for Khalie, and it looks like a forecast of snow might put a damper on things. It's going to take a little bit of magic and a strong belief in fairytales for Khalie to find her Happily Ever After.


Devil's Chew Toy

By Rob Osler,

Book cover of Devil's Chew Toy

Why this book?

This is my first ever Quozy, a sub-genre Rob Osler defines as a queer cozy mystery. For decades, cozy mysteries have brought to mind curious little old ladies or deeply thoughtful straight men with droopy mustaches. Devil’s Chew Toy spins that trope, giving us Hayden McCall, a guy who isn’t as interested in solving a mystery as he is in finding the dude he almost had a perfect date with. As for the strait-laced assistant…that person doesn’t exist here. Hayden teams up with the missing man’s dog plus his larger-larger-than-life lesbian BFFs, making the book hilarious, heart-warming, and profoundly satisfying. This is one of the finest-written books I’ve ever read, and it provides a bonus tour of Seattle’s greatest neighborhoods. I can’t wait for more Hayden and company.

Contains: LGBTQI+ main characters

Devil's Chew Toy

By Rob Osler,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Devil's Chew Toy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A POPSUGAR BEST MYSTERY OF 2022
A BOOKRIOT BEST MYSTERY OF 2022

Perfect for fans of T.J. Klune, Becky Abertalli, and David Levithan, this hilarious, big-hearted LGBTQ+ mystery follows an unlucky in love—and life—gay relationship blogger who teams up with a take-charge lesbian and a fiesty bull terrier to find a missing go-go boy and bring down an international crime ring.

Seattle teacher and part-time blogger Hayden McCall wakes sporting one hell of a shiner, with the police knocking at his door. It seems that his new crush, dancer Camilo Rodriguez, has gone missing and they suspect foul play. What…


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