Top 5 Protagonists

Top 5 Protagonists

Writing is work. Pouring your thoughts onto a piece of paper (or a laptop screen) can oftentimes be an excruciating process. Words don’t seem to quite fit, ideas take longer than planned, and semicolons just don’t behave. It’s no secret that writing can oftentimes be hard.

Sometimes, it’s important to remind ourselves that writing can also be fun.

I’ve taken a bit of an inadvertent hiatus from my blog for several months. I won’t pretend it’s because I didn’t have the time--I did. I won’t pretend it’s because I didn’t have blog post ideas--I did. I can’t even confidently claim that writer’s block had me in it’s throes. In all honesty, it was because the idea of doing more work when I got home, after a full day of work, did not seem appealing to me. 

I am changing my outlook! Let’s remember that writing can be fun. And what’s another fun thing in my life? Books! So, let’s make a happy marriage here. Without further ado, here are my top five favorite protagonists from amazing books that I highly recommend. 

Warning: spoilers lie ahead. 

#5 Matt Pin from Ann E. Burg's All the Broken Pieces

I remember picking this book up in my high school library. I couldn’t tell you what put it in my path. It might have been a librarian recommendation or simply the enticing cover art of a broken baseball. However, I do recall lying in my bed late that night, moved to tears, reading the heart-wrenching story of Matt Pin. 

Matt Pin is a young Vietnamese boy who moves in with an American family as a refugee during the Vietnam War. He runs into a variety of obstacles: racism, bullying, love, hate, homework. Many of the issues dealt with in this novel were something I, a white middle-class girl, had never encountered. His reaction to these problematic scenarios is filled with the innocence and candor of a young man developing his ideas about the world as best as he can. There is an unmistakable feeling that Matt is a symbol for all immigrant experiences, that he is an icon as yet another unimaginably strong person pushing forward in adverse circumstances. 

Ann E. Burg expresses this powerful story beautifully through free verse poetry. It’s a quick read, but one that will stay with you beyond the last page. Eventually, Matt Pin’s fictional, yet gripping, story would be a large part of my inspiration to visit Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City for a study abroad experience.

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#4 Bilbo Baggins from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit

“We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!”

The story of Bilbo Baggins’ is a dynamic tale. It teaches readers that being content does not necessarily equate being satisfied and that being comfortable does not necessarily mean being happy. When Gandalf the Grey approaches Bilbo’s hobbit hole with the opportunity to go an adventure, it is Bilbo’s instinctive reaction to reject the offer. That relatable outlook on life is one of the main reasons Bilbo captures my heart every time. The average person fears change, and Bilbo embodies the humanity of that fear. When wizards come knocking on our door with the chance to change the world, most of us probably wouldn’t answer. We have bills, jobs, dogs, responsibilities. We have things that we fear losing and no adventure could possibly be worth losing those...right?

Through a series of adventures (Gandalf is anything but a liar), Bilbo discovers things that never would have been available to him from the comfort of his homely hobbit hole: friendship, courage, daring, strength. Bilbo is a constant reminder that taking risks can lead to great rewards. 

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#3 Lauren Olamina from Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower

Lauren Olamina is a powerful woman. In a book that synthesizes the post-apocalyptic desolation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and the common spiritual laws that are found in almost all religious texts, Lauren handles the terrain of her broken world with an enviable maturity. Lauren finds a way for her and her friends to survive in these unfortunate circumstances, while also dealing  with a condition called hyperempathy. One of my favorite aspects of Butler’s novel is her ability to utilize Lauren’s strong capacity for emotional intelligence, often associated negatively with women, as a positive. 

Another characteristic about Lauren that is admirable is her building of her religion: Earthseed. Based on phrases that Lauren finds to be universally true, no matter the situation, she creates a set of commandments that govern her religion (and ultimately) her community. 

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#2 Matilda from Roald Dahl's Matilda

“These books gave Matilda hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.”

The sweet and wickedly smart character of Matilda strikes a very sentimental chord in my heart. As a child, I found myself identifying with Matilda’s plight in a multitude of ways. I, too, was a bookish young woman, with an irregular family life, and a love for my elementary school teachers. Matilda spoke to me on a very personal level. I would stare at glasses of water for huge swaths of time, trying to make it fall over with little invisible hands shooting from my eyes as a source of repressed intellectualism, trying to emulate Matilda’s magical gifts. 

One of my absolute favorite things about books is our ability to find ourselves in the characters. I am forever grateful that I stumbled upon this masterpiece at such a young age and was able to read of Matilda’s experiences over and over again to make my own similar plights seem manageable. 

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#1 Guy Montag from Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451

Guy Montag is humanity folded into black ink and soft pages. He is a living, breathing, reacting person who was suddenly shaken awake to the messed up, dystopian world that he had been happily taking part in previously. His philosophical journey is magnificently composed and realistically paced. Montag’s fears, friendships, and family are all just a mirror of reality pressed into type. His story is terrifyingly real, and it is almost scarier because he is so believable. At what point in time while I wake up and see that the world I live in is not what it should be? The best protagonists, in my opinion, are those that make us question our own experiences. 

If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at You can also find me on Twitter at @msmarshbank, Instagram at @amarshybank, and Linked In at Andrea Marshbank

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