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The grumpy / sunshine trope is nothing new, but watching Wednesday and Enid becoming the best and unlikeliest of friends in the new Netflix show reminded me of just how much I love that dynamic whether in friendships or romances. There’s just something about a hardened, stoic character being soft for that one overly optimistic person in their life, and that soft character showing their hard edges in return, that makes me go all warm and fuzzy inside. And fortunately there is no shortage of grumpy / sunshine duo books that feature exactly that.
Most of us can only aspire to be as self-assured and independent as Wednesday, who said, “Sometimes I act like I don’t care if people like me. Deep down, I secretly enjoy it.” Iconic. But even Wednesday eventually learns that having friends–and family–to support you can only make you stronger. And whether that’s taking an arrow for Xavier or trusting Enid to take on the Hyde, Wednesday proves that caring doesn’t have to take away from your stoic, goth aesthetic. These ten grumpy / sunshine duo books may not be Wednesday and Enid, but maybe they’ll at least tide you over until (fingers crossed) season two.
The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna
As one of only a few witches in Britain, Mika Moon has always known she has to keep her powers a secret. So when she’s asked to come tutor three young witches in how to control their powers, at first she’s suspicious. But the strange group of caretakers at Nowhere House seem genuine, and soon Mika finds herself falling for this tight-knit found family. Even the closed off librarian, Jamie, only wants what’s best for the children in his care. Mika and Jamie are as different as night and day, sunshine and storms, but somehow they work well together. And being so different only makes them an even better team.
A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske
A laid back Baronet with an optimistic outlook on life and a stuffy magician are thrown together in this incredible historical fantasy novel set in a magical version of Edwardian England. Robin Blythe never would’ve known magic existed if not for an administrative error that assigned him as the newest liaison to the magical community. Within the course of a day, he discovers magic is real, is cursed by a band of errant magicians, and meets the worlds most disagreeable coworker, Edwin Courcey. But in order to remove Robin’s curse and save the magical world from a dark conspiracy, Robin and Edwin will have to work together. Closely together. And soon Robin begins to notice that beneath Edwin’s hardened exterior is a good man who just wants to be loved.
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Grumpy / sunshine pairings don’t always have to be romantic partners either! (Though more power–and fanfic–to you if you ship Wednesday / Enid or Aziraphale / Crowley.) Like Wednesday and Enid, Azirahpale and Crowley are unlikely friends. I mean, an angel and a demon? Getting along? But that’s part of what makes this wacky end times novel work so well: it’s never quite what you expect.
Wicked by Gregory Maguire
Enid and Wednesday reminded me so much of my original fave sunshine / grumpy duo: Glinda and Elphaba. They have so much in common, even down to the aesthetic. Yes, my love of them came from the musical, not the book, and the two are quite different. But nonetheless, Glinda and Elphaba are an iconic sunshine / grumpy duo for the ages. Elphaba rocks that same sort of goth, color-averse style as Wednesday, and of course Glinda (or Galinda if you prefer) is a preppy as they come. This book is definitely not for kids or probably even teens. Like I said, not the musical. Very much not the musical.
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
A by the book case worker for Department in Charge Of Magical Youth is assigned to one of his most difficult cases yet: determining whether a small orphanage raising six dangerous children is likely to bring about the end of days. Linus has never really considered what happens to the facilities he evaluates after he sends in his reports, but after meeting the charming caretaker of the Marsyas Island Orphanage, Arthur Parnassus, he’s forced to see his job from another angle. And maybe, just maybe, Arthur’s strange little home might have a place for Linus, too.
Witchlings by Claribel A. Ortega
Ortega’s witchy middle grade series mixes up the grumpy / sunshine trope by featuring a mean girl with bubblegum pink hair and her anxious opposite. Seven, the headstrong leader of this trio, invokes an ancient ritual in order to save the three from becoming “spares” whose powers will never manifest as a coven. Unfortunately that means working alongside the spoiled rich girl who has been bullying her for years. But is Valley really just a mean girl? And is Thorn, the third member of their group, nothing more than a nervous nelly? Maybe it will take coming together and looking past the surface for the three of them to realize friendship can come in the unlikeliest of forms.
I Am Not Starfire by Mariko Tamaki and Yoshi Yoshitani
The grumpy / sunshine pairing in this graphic novel are mother and daughter– which is actually pretty appropriate for Wednesday, too, when you think about it. Famed superhero Starfire has a daughter, and her daughter is tired of being compared to her perfect mom. Starfire is bright, colorful, kind, and optimistic. And Mandy is…not. She’s a goth teen who just wants to make her own place in the world without her mother’s legacy hanging over her. But that’s hard to do when your mother is a famous superhero.
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
A sassy swordswoman and a perfectionist necromancer clash before becoming inseparable in this dark space fantasy. The aesthetic of this entire book is very Wednesday, but it also features a fun grumpy / sunshine pairing in the form of Gideon and Harrow. Gideon may have to wear the skull paint of the Ninth House, but she pairs the look with sunglasses and a swagger that mark her as decidedly irreverent. Harrow on the other hand, is a loyal daughter of the Ninth House and takes her necromancy seriously. They go from enemies to begrudging allies to friends to… well, I’ll just let you read it for yourself.
Monstress by Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda
It’s no wonder that the main character in this stunning graphic novel universe is grumpy. Not only has Maika Halfwolf been kidnapped, tortured, and experimented on by the enemy in an ongoing war between the humans and Arcanics, she’s also possessed by an old god with a voracious appetite for human flesh. But her young fox friend, Kipa, who becomes something like a younger sister to her throughout the course of the series, is full of eternal hope and optimism that at turns seems to annoy and comfort Maika. Kipa is a perfect foil and brings out the best in Maika even in the worst of times. Liu and Takeda definitely know what they’re doing with these two, playing on all our heartstrings.
Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett (January 10, 2022)
Emily Wilde is the foremost expert in the study faeries and prefers the company of books to people. Emily is not good at people. So when Emily arrives at village of Hrafnsvik to research her new compendium of faerie lore, she has no intention of befriending the townsfolk or interacting with her rival colleague, the insufferably charming Wendell Bambleby, who happens to arrive at the same time. But as she digs deeper into a mysterious and elusive group of faeries, she must confront another mystery: who exactly is Wendell Bambleby and what does he want? It’s a question that will force her to confront her own desires and, for once, listen to her heart.
Here’s some more recommended reading for Wednesday fans: