February 15, 2009

Fantasy and Other Literary Irritations

I am not a fan of fantasy. I never spontaneously pick one up to read. It usually takes quite a few recommendations from readers and writers whose opinions I value before I jump out of my 21st century world into one filled with enchantments, wizards and the like. But I know that fantasy is huge in the middle grade/young adult market, and I think I need to open my mind to more of the genre. I've discovered that I do like some realistic/contemporary fantasies...works that could possibly be better categorized as futuristic or new-age fanstasies. It seems like two books I've recently read, The Adoration of Jenna Fox (by Mary Pearson) and The Hunger Games (by Suzanne Collins) might fall into that category.
Both of these books were compelling, thought-provoking and exceedingly well-written. The well-written part is probably what makes me think I could learn to like fantasy. Any beautifully crafted story is preferable to one with so-so writing, even if it is filled with the most fantastical creatures and events ever conceived.

I stayed up late the last few nights finishing the Hunger Games. As promised I found it hard to put down. As I neared the end of the book I was amazed at the complexities Collins kept adding to the plot. I kept thinking that all would finally be well for Katniss only to discover that Collins had written in another obstacle to her happiness. As the number of pages in the book dwindled down I subconsciously wondered how the author was going to resolve all the subplots but I just keep reading. I wanted, no, I needed to see how the story would end.

All the people who had recommended this book (and you know who you are) failed to mention one critical fact in their enthusiastic reviews. No one prepared me. There is not a completely fulfilling conclusion to this book. The last line simply says, END OF BOOK ONE. I wanted to scream. Of course once I read those words I realized that Collins had prepared her readers for this but I simply ignored the warning signs--dangling plot lines, lengthy references to characters only seen at the beginning of the story, etc. I was so caught up in the story that I wanted to know everything by the time I closed the back cover. I feel since I suspended my dislike of fantasy for 374 pages, she could at least have provided me with the satisfaction of learning how it all turns out.

Perhaps I'm overreacting, but the author of another book I read recently also ended her novel in the same way. Laurie Halse Anderson's historical novel, Chains is another great read. Beautifully written, compelling, etc., but she ends it with a historically accurate Notice to Readers that the story will be continued in the forthcoming volume, Forge. I hope these two aren't the forerunners of a trend.

Every writing class I've taken has stressed that each book in a series needs to stand on its own, and an author should never assume that a publisher will be interested in buying a series if one book is purchased. (These rules are probably more true for novice authors rather than previously published ones.) Although both of these books are wonderful and I do want to read the sequels, as a reader (perhaps a naive one) I feel slightly cheated. I'm sure Anderson and Collins are busy writing the sequels as I write this blog entry...or at least they'd better be. Rest assured that before I read the first page of either of those two books I will turn to the very last one to check for the fatal words, END OF BOOK TWO. I won't be suckered again.


Patty P said...

My take on The Hunger Games differs slightly. I wasn't disappointed with the ending at all. Collin's provided a top-notch reading experience plus a promise that there was more to come.
The important plot points were wrapped up well enough.
I was put out (but only slightly!) with the ending of Kathleen Duey's Skin Hunger. It felt as though I only made it through half a book. I did love it though, and can't wait for book 2.
Thanks for the reviews!

Maggie said...

I wasn't disappointed with the book. I would have read it differently if I had known there was a sequel forthcoming. I wouldn't have been anticipating total plot resolution. I wanted the "and they lived happily ever after" because I was so caught up in the story. I guess I'm a greedy reader who wanted it all.