I Can’t Get No Satisfaction (from these titles)
Recently I finished reading Terry Pratchett’s newest novel Nation. Great little book. At the end (and this is not giving anything away) it turns out that this has been a story told to two contemporary kids. The girl is upset because the end of the tale is open-ended, in a sense. It doesn’t have the capper, the finish, the finale she requires. I can sympathize because as a kid I was exactly the same way. I was very much a rule follower and one of the rules I felt that the universe should follow was that books should end with satisfying conclusions. Every time I hit books that did not follow this rule I was incensed.
The first book I encountered that failed me and really got under my skin as a result was Stuart Little. Ah, Stuart Little. Anne Carroll Moore may have disliked the book on the grounds that it combined fantasy and reality in uncomfortable ways (to say nothing of women birthing mice) but for me it was all about the ending. There is Stuart. He sets off to find his friend, the little bird. And then… it ends. In third grade my shock was probably palpable from the back of the class where I sat. Authors could do that? They could just . . . end? Surely there was a sequel somewhere then, right? No such luck (and the mere fact that a sequel hasn’t been written to this day suggests that White’s heirs have been keeping a close eye on their baby).
It happened again when I was a teenager with a book that I was sure I was going to love. What child of the 80s (girl child?) isn’t a fan of The Princess Bride. Dude, I had that movie memorized. My best friend and I systematically took a cassette tape and recorded the whole thing, just the two of us (with small fights about who got to play whom in between) when I was nine. Years later I see the book and I think "Hey, look! It’s in book form too!" And I read it and for the most part I have an excellent time. All that extra Inigo Montoya stuff was right up my alley. Then I get to the end and WHAMMO! Disappointment city. Sure it sorta, kinda, kindasorta had a happy ending. But clearly that was not cool enough for Mr. Goldman. Oh, no. He had to throw in an everybody-ends-up-miserable tag that didn’t make a lot of sense and seriously bummed out adolescent me.
Nowandays, series books for kids and teens sell so well that it’s not uncommon to get to the end of a story and find a great big To Be Continued staring you in the face. It’s not too dissimilar from the experience you have when you’re watching a favorite television show, there are five minutes left, and you suddenly think, "Hey! They’re not going to have enough time to wrap this up, are they?" Books do the same thing. But I haven’t met as many open-ended endings recently. It would be interesting to see if my adult self got self-righteously all-is-not-well-with-the-universe mad if I encountered one again. All bets are off in that department, though.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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