What central themes do you find irresistible in a novel?

Sometimes it's interesting to hear writers talk about a particular book they've written in terms of the themes they and their characters wrestle with in a given book.  This also applies to what themes compel a reader as well.

My debut speculative novel PROSPECT OF MY ARRIVAL is about a human embryo allowed to preview the world before deciding whether to be born.  The central question hopefully raised in the mind of the reader is: If I know when I was about to be born everything that I know now about the world and life -- would I have chosen to be born? Or would I have asked to be returned to the gene pool to wait for a later arrival time and a better world? So at one level, the novel is about evolution. Are we evolving or backsliding? How do we create better, happier humans?

Another question is how does our world, our species, look to the complete outsider? Does earth throw out a welcome mat to newcomers? Or would a newcomer observe us for a few weeks and go diving into the gene pool. The novel also looks at the sense of wonder that one is born with -- and how crucial that is to one's ability to hope and evolve and be happy.

So what do you think of my themes?  Do they intrigue, not intrigue, why?  And what are the primary themes in the books you read or write? 


Let's look at books that I can't get enough of as a reader, and consider their themes.  Here are a few books that have stayed with me:

Devil in the White City
House on Mango Street
Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time

In DEVIL, there is the obvious intrigue of two men.  One is a serial killer and one is an urban planner.  Thematically the book made me consider the greatest potential of a human and the lowest evil of a human.  One man is focused on making a beautiful world's fair for the masses.  One man is focused on luring women to his hotel for the pleasure of killiing them.  Implicit in this is the horrible wasted potential of the serial killer who was a very bright creative person.

In MANGO, a young latino girl explores the ups and downs of a life that yearns to be bigger than it is.  The voice of the novel captured me.  The sheer exuberance and vulnerability.  Thematically, the book explored the power of the individual to dream beyond the borders of the life they are given.  The bluster and naivete of youth, and a child's imagination as a passport to greater things.

In CURIOUS, a young boy with ADHD type issues is sheltered from various truths.  His father doesn't think he is capable of processing the information so he tells white lies.  The boy plays detective and discovers answers on his own terms leading to truths that will change his relationship with his father forever.  The book explored themes of truth telling and untruth telling.  The need and responsibility of an individual to find their own truths.

So when I look at these books, I can see I'm drawn to stories where people live up to their potential -- or tragically fail to.  Stories of how a person's creativity can sometimes rescue them from a dire situation, can give them hope, inspiration and empowerment.  Stories where hard-won truths open doors to new possibilities.  In all three books, there is something horrible happening just beyond the corner of your eye.  Something scary.  And at the center of these books are sweet, flawed persons trying to do good things.  In these books, the sincere person basically triumphs.  Though sometimes the evil person also triumphs as well.  And that is the way the world often is.  I like these books because they remind me of the world I come from.  An ambiguous world with many shades of gray.  There are often bittersweet endings to the many stories contained in that world.  Where heroes and villains often ride the same bus to work each morning...and breathe the same air.

So what themes are compelling to you as a writer or as a reader?  


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