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Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Bad habits and sad endings


I’ll admit it. I’m developing a bad reading-related habit; I’m starting to leave a trail of unfinished YA books in my wake. Not because they weren’t enjoyable, or well written, but because of the book’s ending.

These days it’s hard to read a high profile book, watch a popular TV show or highly hyped movie without getting a gist of the ending. Although it’s well-known and accepted, by most, that spoilers should be avoided, there’s still the inclination to give something away. Any comment on an ending, however vague, establishes audience expectations—a warning of what’s to come.

When two highly anticipated books hit the bookshelves earlier this year, it was almost impossible to avoid spoilers. Whilst I avoided most details, I couldn’t help but hear over and over about how sad the endings were. Even my trusted online book reviewer labelled one of the book’s endings as controversial. YA book + controversial ending = main character deaths. Uh-oh.

So I began reading the books with a sense of trepidation, knowing the outcome for my beloved characters was not going to be good. But reading a book like that is similar to watching a horror movie between interlocked fingers; only parts of the experience and story are absorbed. My heart filled with dread as I neared the final chapters of one of the books. This was it, the moment that I’d known was coming. I decided I couldn’t face it; I put the book down, refusing to be shattered by the ending. I’d been there before, a few times this year—actually, where a book’s ending had fractured my heart. I didn’t want to go there again. I never returned to the book.

When I was reading the second book, I armed myself with nerves of steel; ready to face the sledgehammer-to-the-chest ending that I’d been warned about. At the end of the book I was surprised to find myself in one piece; it hadn’t been as heartbreaking as I’d imagined. Perhaps this was because I had distanced myself from the characters whilst reading the book, making sure the ending would not break me. At least I managed to finish that novel.

You’re probably thinking that I just don’t like sad or shocking endings, but that’s not true. There are many novels where I appreciate a more poignant ending—if appropriate to the story. However, YA novels are usually a safe bet when it comes to some form of happy/resolved ending. However, the recent darker trend in popular mainstream YA fiction is leading readers down a different path. One I’m not so sure I like. I don't want to feel hollow after reading a YA book, I want to be uplifted and moved, my faith in the world, and humanity, restored. If this sad ending trend continues, there are sure to be more unfinished books left on my shelf.

What do you think of this recent dark turn for YA endings? Do you like sad endings? Or do you think I’m just being a wuss?

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