"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Let's talk about book endings

This past week I finished a short novel which, to put it mildly, had a very unsatisfying ending. It ended on a very sad note, not death-sad but despair-sad. Up to that point my husband would have graded the book with a 3.5 to 4 star review, but with the ending he gave it just two stars. Later he upgraded it to 2.5 stars, but only because I pushed. Wow, who knew that an ending could have such a profound impact on how much a person liked/disliked a book? This got me thinking about book endings. What is it that makes an ending a good one?

In an article entitled "Everything You Need to Know About Writing Endings", NY Book Editors say there are six types of endings:

  1. The Perfect Loop. This is the ending that brings the reader right back to the beginning of the novel. An example of a perfect loop is found in The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawling, where the boy, Jody, begins as a young immature child. In the end, the boy is gone, replaced by a young man. "In the beginning of his sleep, he cried out, 'Flag!' It was not his own voice that called. It was a boy's voice. Somewhere beyond the sinkhole, past the magnolia, under the live oaks, a boy and a yearling ran side by side, and were gone forever."
  2. The Surprise Ending. All book endings should be satisfying so the surprise should not be too big of surprise, or there should be plenty of foreshadowing to prepare the reader. Two YA books which have great surprise endings at We Are the Liars by E. Lockhart and The Maze Runners by James Dashner. As the reader is hit with the plot twist at the end of the book they are almost forced to spend some time thinking back over the clues that they missed or noticed along the way. I am a sucker for a good surprise ending.
  3. The Moral of the Story. This type of ending tells the reader what they should have got from the book. Hopefully, it won't be preachy. Those are my least favorite types of endings. But, apparently they can be very good, if done right. The example the NY Book Editors gave was the ending in I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb, which, I must admit, IS very good and does tell the reader what he or she should have gotten from the book.
  4. The Cliffhanger. We've all read books which end on a cliffhanger. I only like this type of ending if the sequel is already published or at least scheduled for publication. My youngest daughter refuses to read a book in a series until all books in the series are published so she can immediately roll from one to the next. I love and hate good cliffhangers for this reason. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor is example of a book with an extreme cliffhanger and the sequel is not available. Argh! It just about killed me.
  5. The Happy Ending. This is the book where everything is all wrapped up with a bow. So many YA books end this way that teens have come to expect it and when there isn't a happy ending, they feel robbed. I prefer books which cause me to create an ending myself, with the possibility of happiness, but not necessarily. An alternative to this ending would be the ending where everything is tied up, but not necessarily happily. Hmm...
  6. The Vague or Murky Ending. The NY Book Reviewers caution their readers to NOT end books this way. But that begs the question. Where does an ambiguous ending to a book fit in? All books should end with a satisfying ending for the reader, but can't ambiguous endings be satisfying? Perhaps ambiguous and murky/vague aren't the same thing.
But what about the sad, despair-ending novel I just finished? It doesn't seem to fit into any of these ending types. I had to dig further to find another article on the Internet and found, "9 Key Elements of Great Endings" by Writer's Relief. I won't list all nine elements but one of them seems a little different than the six I listed above---Leave Room for Interpretation. Now that fits more closely with the ending I just experienced. The characters are unhappy but does that mean they will be permanently unhappy or can I create an alternative ending for them in the future where they do experience some happiness? These are the types of endings which I often causes me to under appreciate the book at its conclusion but end up causing me to think about the book long after I finished reading it.

We may talk an awful lot about book beginnings but I am suddenly aware that it is really book endings which make for our favorites and the most enduring books. If you don't believe me, pick up a classic and check out its ending. Here are a few of my favorites:
  • "Reader, I married him." -Jane Eyre
  • "THE LAST NOTE FROM YOUR NARRATOR. I am haunted by humans." -The Book Thief
  • "I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest. Because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can't stand it. I been there before." -Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
So, what do you think? How important is the ending of the book to how much you like it? What are some of your favorite book endings?

Let's talk.


  1. An unsatisfying ending is just the worst as it is the final thought left in your head. I think it can really color the way we feel about a book. That said, a great ending can make you feel good about a book that was just so-so

    1. I've had so many discussions with teens when books end on an ambiguous note. I don't think they are satisfied because the book is wrapped up. But I find ambiguity fine. It allows my mind to delve into the world of "what if."

  2. I struggle with overly pat endings, which seems to be an issue mostly with middle grade novels. But I also know that at that age, I really, really hated sad endings, and my definition of sad was pretty broad. Like, I hated the end of Tuck Everlasting. I probably like the Perfect Loop (great way to describe something I hadn't thought about before) and surprise endings best, when well done.

    1. I used to love what is now called Christian Fiction but now I have a really hard time with it because the moral message just about clobbers me over the head. I don't read much middle grade material but I would guess that young teens and early adolescents are much more concrete thinkers and need their books to be more direct.

  3. I love the Jane Eyre and The Book Thief endings- but I didn't realize it until I read your post!

    1. I just finished a book, The One-in-a-Million Boy, which has a fabulous ending. I am still in raptures days after finishing it. Now I want to reread The Book Thief.

  4. I think we all would want that book to end differently, but how could it realistically? I've spent a lot of time thinking about it, and it seemed like that was the way it had to go. Haruf was dying of lung cancer(or something similar to it) when he finished the book, so he probably saw it as a relatively happy ending, whereas most of us don't.


I look forward to your comments and interactions! Join in the conversation.