There are very few novels I like because I find that fictional characters tend to be unbelievable, possessing dissonant traits that are contradictory to Myers-Briggs. Writers who don’t know about Myers-Briggs don’t know that you can’t simply choose any combination of personality traits and put them together in one person. Some authors try to make their characters complex to the point of psychological impossibility.
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (which I’ve blogged about briefly before) is my favorite book, and I don’t say that lightly. This book is different. This book is all about INTPs. Despite the fact that it’s a children’s novel, I have never read a better fictional portrayal of INTPs.
There are several INTPs in the book, including a mysterious time traveler. The main character though, 12-year-old Miranda, is probably an INFP. I think of INFPs as “INTP Whisperers”. They make great friends for INTPs. They can understand INTPs well, and act as a translator between INTPs and others. They can be selfless champions of an INTP’s ideas, and can often identify an INTP’s emotional and relational needs better than INTPs themselves. They can also tolerate a lot of INTP eccentricities that deter other friendships, such as their lack of emotional preamble and tendency towards self-absorption. (The author has stated that Miranda is heavily modeled after herself. If Rebecca Stead is an INFP as I suspect, it’s very apt that a book about INTPs would be written by an INFP.)
Miranda becomes friends with an INTP boy named Marcus, and she does all of these things for him. At first she thinks he’s weird because he talks about advanced concepts in math and physics rather than typical 12-year-old stuff, and he doesn’t make small talk or seem to have any other friends. But then she comes to understand him. While she begins to protect Marcus in ways that he’s completely oblivious to, he teaches her how to solve the mystery of the time traveler.
Miranda spends a lot of time thinking about the nature of reality, using the metaphor of a veil. Everyone is born with an invisible veil separating them from the rest of the world, she says:
We walk around happily with these invisible veils hanging over our faces. The world is kind of blurry, and we like it that way.
But sometimes our veils are pushed away for a few moments, like there’s a wind blowing it from our faces. And when the veil lifts, we can see the world as it really is, just for those few seconds before it settles down again. We see all the beauty, and cruelty, and sadness, and love. But mostly we are happy not to. Some people learn to lift the veil themselves. Then they don’t have to depend on the wind anymore.
I’ve thought a lot about those veils. I wonder if, every once in awhile, someone is born without one. Someone who sees the big stuff all the time. Like maybe you [the time traveler].
I re-read this book whenever I’m feeling lost or overwhelmed; I’ve read it over a dozen times. It reminds me of who I am. I am not a stay-at-home mom, a person who does laundry and kisses boo-boos. I am not a homeowner or a wife. I am an INTP, a person without a veil. Most people have to work hard to lift their veil, but I have to work hard to create it.