Until about two months ago, when my daughter started talking to me about a YA book called Red Hood by Elena K. Arnold, I had never heard of a book being written in the second person. (Yeah, I guess I’m not as well read when it comes to books outside Stephen King or historical romance.) So I questioned my daughter about how such a book would be written.
“It’s kind of like those interactive books where they say, ‘You can turn left or right. You decide to turn right.’ It uses the words ‘you’ and ‘your’ where a first person point of view would use ‘I’ and ‘my.’”
I thought about it and although I think it would be too off-putting for me to read (I stopped reading Patricia Cornwell because she started writing in present tense), I am intrigued by general readers’ responses to the second person POV.
My first thought was that second person POV would bring the reader into the story in an immediate way that even first person does not. Melissa Tydel, writing for The Write Stuff says, “Second person allows the readers to experience the story as if it’s their own…Using the pronoun ‘you’ and describing action as it happens supplies a personal sense of urgency, propelling the story—and the reader—forward.” She also points out that because it’s not often used, it offers a fresher experience for the reader.
I was interested enough in finding out if this was true across the board, or if second person had its critics as well. I checked out reviews for Red Hood and found that eight out of thirty one reviews had mentioned the second point of view experience. Two reviewers simply mentioned that the book was written in second person. Perhaps not surprisingly three enjoyed the second person POV, saying it “made the experience more personal,” “put you right in the main character’s shoes,” and “it worked perfectly…by driving the story forward and submerging the reading into the narrative.”
There were detractors too, of course, also three, who said “a big problem with the lack of connection to the characters was that the book was written in the second person,’ ‘the second person narrative was jarring and kept me from connecting to the character,’ and ‘the only think I could not get used to was the second person POV.’”
So second person point of view can be problematic for writers. You may have to deal with readers who are turned off by this rather different take on the perspective of your book, however, if you have a strong sense that this is the way the story needs to be told, I say listen to that instinct (your muse, most likely). At worst, you may have to go back and re-write the book in a more conventional POV. But perhaps this is the thing that makes your book work when nothing else would. That makes the reader sit up and take notice of the story because that POV engages them in the story as nothing else would have.
Here are some other books that have utilized the second person POV that you might give a look: Booked by Kwame Alexander, Brass by Xhenet Aliu, The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida, and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.
Have you read any books written in the second person? Did you like or dislike them? I think I may just have to read one of these so I can judge for myself.