Note: Once again, a reminder that the Alternate Version Blogfest is happening on April 1st. This is your chance to be Hemmingway or Austen. Go take a look!
I recently read two books in which secondary characters underwent more visible development than the main character. (Warning, some moderate spoilers for Story Time and Dark Dude, although I don't think it ruins the book.)
For example, the main character of Story Time by Edward Bloor is Kate, who is forced to attend a new school with crazy teachers and rumors of demons. The book centers around Kate and her efforts survive the school and figure out its secrets.
While Kate has plenty of adventures, the most visible character development in the book occurs in two supporting characters. Her mother, June, fights her severe social anxiety and eventually overcomes it for Kate's sake. The other growth character is Kate's uncle George (who is actually two years younger than Kate). He starts out as a nerdy sidekick, but at the new school he comes into his own and learns to step into the spotlight.
The other book I read was Dark Dude, by Oscar Hijuelos. The main character here is Rico, a Cuban boy from New York City who runs away to live with his friend in Wisconsin. He meets new people and gains a new perspective on life before returning home. However, Rico ends the book in pretty much the same situation he started in, while a very visible character change occurs in his friend Jimmy, who breaks his heroin addiction and learns to harness his talents and start a new life.
I wonder if it’s a coincidence that both these books are YA. Stories like these might fit into the overall YA theme because part of becoming an adult involves helping others reach their potential. But while I enjoyed seeing these secondary characters develop, part of me also wanted more visible change in the main character. Especially in Dark Dude, I wanted a more concrete manifestation of the lessons Rico learned in Wisconsin.
Have you read any books where the supporting cast has more visible growth than the main character? How did you feel about it? At what point does a strong secondary character arc distract from the main story?