Hope and Endings

Have you guys seen the mega hype surrounding Justin Cronin's The Passage? Every review seems to be raving and since it's a post-apocalyptic vampire novel, though one written for adults, I thought I should check it out. I'm about halfway through it now (It's good so far! I'll post a little review as as soon as I'm done) and I got to thinking how what we're doing as YA authors is different from what Cronin is doing.

What's the difference between a post-apocalyptic vampire story written for adults and one written for teens?

Focusing on a teen voice is probably key, right? Violent and sexual content is likely toned down a bit.  (Of course, these days, maybe not so much)

But the thing that really got me thinking was endings.

See, I can envision a post-apocalyptic novel for adults that has a completely down ending, that says we're all screwed, we're all going to die and that's just life. Tough luck, buddy. The vampires win. I can see that as a valid, though gloomy, artistic statement.

I have a harder time imagining that in a novel for teens though. This made me wonder, when we're writing for teens, be it post-apocalyptic or otherwise, do we ultimately owe our readers a hopeful ending?  Personally,  I have a tendency to end things on a hopeful note but it seems strange to say that this is the only valid statement to make.

What do you guys think? Writing for teens, are there artistic statements that are best avoided? Can you think of YA novels that end on a completely down note?

Oh! And here's your scavenger hunt clue!  Good luck!

19 comments:

Jemi Fraser said...

Personally I always prefer books that give me hope at the end - YA or adult. I work with kids & some of them live pretty tough lives. So many of them don't see a lot of hope in their own lives, I think they prefer to have hope in their fiction.

Erinn said...

I ALWAYS prefer reading/writing something that ends hopeful. I can handle any sort of conflict the characters go through as along as I know there's hope in the end.

That's why I like the Pandora's Box myth so much.

I agree with Jemi, real life is depressing enough, I want hope in a fictional world.

I get angry if it has a depressing ending, I feel like it was a waste of my time if there was no hope at all.

Kay said...

As a reader, I definitely prefer an ending with hope, but books (as well as life) doesn't always deliver.

Much of Robert Cormier's work ends on a down note. I hated the ending of The Chocolate War where the MC decided that it wasn't worth it.

I don't know that Robert Golding wrote Lord of the Flies for YA (though it's taught in high schools all over now), but it is another novel with a less than hopeful ending.

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

I like the hope endings too, but I agree with Kay that life doesn't always end on a positive.

Bittersweet Fountain said...

I think sometimes we go too far with our hopeful endings. Hopeful endings are the modern equivalent of "And they all lived happily ever after".

This was one of the reasons why I had a problem with YA books when I was a young adult. I didn't read them - because by the end the MC girl always had a boyfriend. It made me look at my life and think "My lord, what is wrong with me that I can't get a boyfriend?" The hopeful endings made me doubt myself.

Sure we all want a little hope at the end - but I prefer things to be bittersweet. I want to see a little hope and I want to see things not work out. It's nice that Marius and Cosette get their happy ending in Les Mis - but to get that Eponine has to die. Her ending isn't hopeful.

Life isn't happily ever after. And not every girl gets to be Cosette. Some of us are Eponine.

Rebecca J. Carlson said...

I look at stories as a road map for overcoming the self-destructive darkness within ourselves. Yes, in real life self-destruction often wins out, but I'd rather have a road map showing me where to go than a road map showing me where NOT to go.

laurapauling said...

Do you think hope and a happy ending are the same thing? I'd think they'd be different.

Jeff Hirsch said...

Wow great thoughts guys! Keep 'em coming!

I hadn't thought of The Chocolate War, but that's a great example. It's a classic and it's a capital D downer. I appreciated the writing in that book and admired it. Did I like it though? Hmmm...

I gotta say I'm really torn personally. I see wanting to give kids hope, but I do fear selling them a bill of goods, an overly rosy picture of the world. Maybe the mistake is buried right in my post, looking at it as choice only between up or down. Happy or Sad.

Love your defense of the bittersweet ending, bittersweet! Cossette may get the man, but Eponine is way cooler.

Great point Laura...is hope the same as a happy ending?

Kathryn Packer Roberts said...

I love happy endings and I think they are vital in some situations, but I don't always think that 'happy' has to mean that every single thing is hunky-dory. In my book (much to the dismay of my friend/readers) I kill off a main character. Not THE main character, but still. The point I am trying to make for teens is that life CAN and WILL go on after these experiences. The bad guy was defeated, yes, but that doesn't always happen the way we think. I just want teens to realize this. They can get what they want/need/should have, but not without sacrifice. (of course my example is extreme, but still).

lbdiamond said...

Sure, a happy ending is great, but sometimes ya just gotta go for broke and kill the MC. Just sayin'.

Angie said...

Interesting question, Jeff. I think what we owe our readers is a good story. Not all stories are going to have happy endings. Teens are smart enough to know that. (An editor at a YA magazine told me once: teens like dark.) And hope and a happy ending aren't necessarily synonymous. You could have hope in a non-happily-ever-after ending like in FEED.

LM Preston said...

An ending can make or break a book for the reader. Also, make them so angry that they won't pick up anything else the author has written.

Three Turtles and Their Pet Librarian said...

Cossette is whiny and her entire character is built around her relationship with the men in her life. Oh, wait, Cossette is Bella! Eponine is definitely way, way cooler (obsessed with a guy, but she at least DOES something!)

The Author said...

I think the ending you're probably looking for already exists in Richard Matheson's I am Legend (not the hollywood version).

But I think you don't need hope in the post apocalyptic, but you do need some kind of acceptance or closure for those that got left behind when things went to crap. I think that's what gives the rest of the story meaning. Hope can be such a narrow concept when there are so many other valid emotions in such situations.

Kristi Helvig said...

I don't need the ending to be happy, but I do prefer to read and write things that end on a hopeful note. I've worked with incarcerated kids for years, and hopefully gave them some hope when they felt they had none. I want to do the same with my writing. Also, I'm a huge believer in life being what you create it to be--so if you think life is depressing and won't end well, then it won't.

beth said...

This made me think of the Will Smith movie, Legend. In the movie, there's an ending with hope...but in the short story (or is it long enough to be called a novella?), the end is very dark. At the time, I wrote this off as Hollywood happy endings, but now I wonder if it's because the movie was geared more to young adults than the story?

Elana Johnson said...

Great post, Jeff. I certainly hope there is room for more "less happy" endings in novels for teens. Not everything wraps itself up in a neat little box. I'm okay with books that end, even if they don't end well, even for teens.

Like THE GIVER.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Dude! You need to stop reading my mind. You're, like, freaking me out.

Oops. Sorry (teen voice). Um, what was I saying? Right.

I was just urging Ink to try teen dystopias, because they were so much more hopeful than the adult variety he had just plowed through! I even quoted you (the collective you, as in the blog) to him. Ah! Now I'm stuck in a blog vortex, circling the drain ...

:)

p.s. I DO think we need hopeful endings. Lord knows there's enough disillusionment in store for teens, they don't need it piled on.

Jeff Hirsch said...

Again, great thoughts everybody! Thanks for stopping by!