Do Happy Endings Exist?

 

IMG_1486For the most part, I prefer books with happy endings. I’m not opposed to a sad ending, but it has to be the right one.

I recently had a friend say to me that they prefer “hopeful” endings, and that makes a lot of sense. What’s the point if we don’t have hope?

A while ago, I read A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara. It is an amazing book, but it’s also horrifically sad. That’s not to say that it’s unrelentingly sad, but the ending is not a happy one.

It got me to thinking that where authors end the book makes the difference between a happy, hopeful ending, or a sad one.

A Little Life ebbs and flows with happiness and hope, where it seems like Jude will finally get the life he wanted, and devestatingly sad parts, the kind of sticky sad that stays with you and makes you question your own life.

If Yanagihara had ended the book during one of those upbeat, hopeful moments, it would be an entirely different book with a whole different meaning.

Books only tell the story of a slice of time. They don’t tell you what happens after, if the character suffered a tragedy. Romance novels often end with a marriage or proposal, but they don’t tell you if someone got cancer after they were married for a few years or if someone had an affair with an ex. Mystery novels end with the detective finding the criminal, but they don’t talk about the detective descending into alcoholism  or having a car accident which causes them never-ending back pain.

My point is that anything can happen when a story continues, and it won’t exclusively be happy or sad. Life is about the whole spectrum of emotional experience. My life is just a series of stories I tell myself (and others). Sometimes I don’t get to pick what happens in the story because sometimes life happens to me, but I get to pick the frame.

For example, I was recently supposed to go to a Taylor Swift concert in Arizona (I live in Texas). I didn’t get to go because I had a sick 17-year-old cat, and I was worried what would happen if I left. So I stayed, and my friends went to the concert without me. I looked at their pictures on Facebook and imagined what a great time I would have had with them. 😥

If the story ends there, it’s kind of a downer, right? But what if the end of the story has the sick cat making a full recovery? And knowing that my elderly cat is healthy today because I missed a concert? And that my husband agreed to go see Taylor Swift with me when she comes to Texas? Does it change the story?

I think it does. I like happy endings in fiction; I prefer them in real life too. Life has its ups and downs, just like fiction does. And just like in fiction, I can usually choose where to end that particular short story.

Related post: 10 Reasons I Love Happy Endings

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10 Reasons I Love Happy Endings

This post applies to all book types EXCEPT horror. I’m fine with everyone being dead at the end of a horror book/ movie.

  1. I read to take a break from real life. While I don’t mind a good depressing book, life is difficult enough without reality intruding in my entertainment. A lot of bad things happen in real life, and we can’t always count on them ending well. It’s important that books end on a hopeful note.
  2. When I live with a character in my head for several hundred pages, I want good things to happen for them. I start to enjoy spending time with a character as if they were my friend. Therefore, I prefer that things work out for them.
  3. Sad endings can make me introspective, but happy endings are uplifting. When I’ve read a book with a roller coaster ride between the pages and then a happy ending that feels right (not forced), it can make me feel cheerful the rest of the day.
  4. I believe that most problems have solutions. What I mean by that is that often when there’s a depressing ending, it happens, not exclusively because of circumstance, but also because of people’s choices. I like it when a character engages in problem solving to find a solution to a problem, and I think it sets an excellent example for readers.
  5. I believe that people can be happy in spite of circumstances. What do lottery winners have in common with paralyzed accident victims? This is not a joke.  ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… One year after the incident, they both tend to return to baseline levels of happiness. When a book has a happy ending despite bad things that happen, it means that people can triumph over anything. Happiness has to do with the individual, not the circumstances.
  6. They combat the negativity that seems to get the most airtime. I can’t get on social media without seeing something about some celebrity feud, someone complaining that someone is talking about them behind their back, arguing over politics. And don’t even get me started on the news. Ugh. If we believe the information we’re inundated with, we’re all the wrong shape or size, everyone is mean and wouldn’t give a glass of water to a dying man, and if you’re not “with” my politician, it must mean you hate me and everything I stand for. I don’t believe any of that BS. It’s nice to read about relationships working out, people talking through their differences, and people lending helping hands. It’s even nice to occasionally read about people discussing politics without creating Hatfield/ McCoy feuds.
  7. Hope matters. For those of you who don’t know about 13 Reasons Why, it’s a book about a girl who leaves a tape behind to be passed to the thirteen people she feels contributed to her suicide. It’s both a book and later became a Netflix series. It was under controversy because many teens cited the book as triggering them to attempt (or in some cases, tragically complete) suicide. If books can have such a negative impact, why can’t they also have positive ones?
  8. Happy does not equal shallow. I think that sometimes people equate depressing books with emotional richness and thought provoking, while dismissing books with happy endings. Do you know how much harder it is to be positive than to be negative? Try it sometime. Go forth in the world with a smile and a kind word for everyone, and see how difficult it can be. I love books that put a character through a difficult struggle and end up deserving the happy ending.
  9. Heroes should always triumph over villains. If we don’t believe that the light side of the force will always ultimately triumph over the dark side, then what’s the point? Maybe good doesn’t always triumph over evil in real life, but it should. Maybe the detective doesn’t always catch the murderer or find the kidnapping victim in real life, but he should.
  10. I want to feel like there’s a point. When I read a book that’s depressing for hundreds of pages, and then ends on a bleak note, I often feel like, “Well, what was the point of that?” We all know that bad things happen and that sometimes people never recover. It seems meaningless. When I see people suffer for hundreds of pages but ultimately triumph, I often feel like, “Wow, that person didn’t let anything stop them from reaching their goal.” When I did therapy, I used to ask my groups a question: What’s the difference between success and failure? There’s only one difference… the successful people never quit. If you try something 1,000 times, fail 999 of those times but only succeed once, people will call you a success. I like books that show that.

What do you think? Do you prefer happy endings or endings when things don’t work out? Do you agree or disagree with any of my reasoning?

Our Dark Duet- A Review

Our Dark Duet is the sequel to This Savage Song. The first part of the review will be spoiler-free. I’ll warn you before you get to the spoilers.

I read This Savage Song, by Victoria Schwab, last November, and I fell in love. I may have screamed in frustration when I found out there was going to be a sequel that wasn’t due out for 11 months! It had a fresh premise, interesting and flawed characters. And monsters. (I like monsters.) It also had moral dilemmas and was a thoroughly discussable book. I partially reviewed it here.

Our Dark Duet came out on June 13th, and I bought a Kindle copy immediately. The story picks up six months later, letting us know what August and Kate have been doing since This Savage Song ended. Kate’s been fighting monsters in another town, and August has been trying to save South City.

For me, Our Dark Duet is a solidly good book, though I didn’t love it as much as the first one. But apparently I’m in the minority there. Folks on Goodreads and Amazon have rated the second higher than the first.

The Spoiler Free Good

Our Dark Duet has all the things I loved about the first one, plus a new and fascinating monster. We get to see more from insight the Flynn compound, and wrap up with all the characters who were in the first book.

The Spoiler Free Bad

Part of what I loved in the first book was the relationship between August and Kate. It wasn’t just about chemistry and shipping them (though that was an element for me). It was also about how they grew to depend on one another. They’re separated for most of the second book.

*Spoiler alert below the picture, including discussion of the ending. You’ve been warned.*

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The Good, With Spoilers

I love that they finally try to kiss, and that it brings Kate’s soul to the surface. I loved that they explore moral complexity more. Kate’s soul is “stained” because she shot someone in self-defense. She admits that maybe she could have done something different, but she didn’t because she assumed the person was a monster. Previously, when August has been reaping a soul, the confession clearly shows that the person is a bad guy. But they reveal that other people have done bad things with good intentions, or that they did bad things previously, changed. I appreciated that acknowledgement, because ignoring that always bothered me in the first one.

The Bad, With Spoilers

I don’t love it that Kate and Ilsa die. I’ve been thinking about it (which is why this review is written almost 2 weeks after I finished the book), and it’s probably the right ending. But it feels so hopeless. Kate and Ilsa helped August keep himself sane and in check. They remind him of the best parts of himself. Having them die and then it just end makes me worry about what August will do going forward. Not that he’ll go dark or lose his way again. But just that we all need to connect with someone, or what’s the point? And I know August loves his parents (even though Henry is dying too… ugh), but it’s not the same. Ilsa and Kate were the people August connected to the most.

I guess the implication was that August and Soro are going to form more of a connection, but… I neither liked nor disliked Soro, so that’s not comforting to me.

It almost feels like a loose end to me, and I want to know what happens to August next. Even though, honestly, I probably wouldn’t like if the author tried to stretch the premise into another book. It’s over… but it doesn’t feel that way.

I don’t mind that Kate and Ilsa died; it kind of feels right to me. And it’s life, isn’t it, that sometimes we don’t get what we want, and endings hurt? I just… I guess I wanted more for Kate and August; a chance for them to see who they could be together when they were a team.

What did you think of this book or this series? Have there ever been books where you both loved and hated the ending?