Happily (N)Ever After? (in defense of Young Adult/New Adult)

And-they-lived-happily-ever-after

{Featured on one of my favorite literary blogs, Clear Eyes, Full Shelves}

Ruth Graham’s “Against YA” caused many eyes to roll and many heads to nod. But a particular passage from the article has stayed with me:

“These (Young Adult novel) endings are emblematic of the fact that the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction—of the real world—is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction. These endings are for readers who prefer things to be wrapped up neatly, our heroes married or dead or happily grasping hands, looking to the future.”

Whoa. Talk about a diss.

But she’s got a point. For someone who supposedly disdains the genre, Graham has clearly done her share of Young Adult research. The core expectation of the Young Adult/New Adult genre is the HEA (happily ever after) ending. Whether it’s The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot or Impulse by Ellen Hopkins, YA/NA novels usually end on some sort of note of lasting hope.

ellen
She’s not really known for uplifting covers…

All right, less so for Ellen Hopkins novels, let’s be honest here. But even her books sometimes end with the guy and girl holding hands, “looking to the future.” Graham takes a slam at these endings as being nothing like “the real world.”

You know what, Ruth Graham? You’re probably right.

Happy endings are just that – happy, tied-up, optimistic endings. They don’t pretend to be reality; they don’t exist in Jerry Maguire’s “cynical world.” They’re just satisfying.

Take Cora Carmack’s Losing It. Girl (almost) sleeps with professor, the two run into obstacles, somehow at the end find themselves in a 9780062273246_p0_v3_s260x420relationship and holding hands by the end. It’s neat. Maybe it’s not the most inspiring of messages, but it leaves us with closure. There’s drama; there’s conflict; but it all exists with the promise of a rainbow at the end.

What’s wrong with the rainbow? That’s why readers flock to these novels. We know we’re guaranteed our neat ending by the last page, that’s part of the reason we pick up YA/NA books. Even if they’re not outright happy with a romantic relationship and a marriage on the way, there’s still a sense of satisfaction.

In Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl, the main character reaches some weird sense of satisfaction when Stargirl sends him a porcupine tie (I didn’t get really get it either). But the tone at the end is clearly optimistic, with the unspoken hope that Stargirl and the main character will meet again.

There’s none of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye cynicism about society. There’s no it’s-too-late mentality. Morrison’s novels (and other adult novels with “un”-satisfactory endings) deal with adult resignation, controversial emotions, and general disillusionment. In contrast, Young Adult and New Adult novels teach us to hope. They teach us that happily ever after can exist, and that happily never after isn’t the only option. Adult novels with disillusioned endings can be written masterfully and honestly (such as the great Toni Morrison’s). But these novels don’t teach you about the potential for happiness. https://i0.wp.com/img2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20130314122128/glee/images/2/23/Hope.gif “Happily ever after” exists in many different forms. It can exist through satisfaction; it can exist through acceptance; it can exist through forgiveness. These endings teach readers that we can overcome whatever conflict has been thrown our way. By the end of our own story, we’ll have reached our satisfactory ending. No matter how bleak matters seem, we can still emerge with our head held high.

If it’s not okay, then it’s not the end.

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One thought on “Happily (N)Ever After? (in defense of Young Adult/New Adult)

  1. I read specifically FOR the HEA. There is enough negativity and sadness in the world. I read (and write) for the ESCAPE from the real world.

    Great post.

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