Guest Post: Pema Donyo on YA & Happy Ever Afters
Note: This is a guest post from author & college student Pema Donyo. Scroll down to the bottom of this post to learn more about her. Also, there are spoilers for the happy endings of several books in this post--you've been warned. Another CEFS post dealing with similar concepts was written by Laura a couple years ago--check it out over here.
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Ruth Graham's "Against YA" op-ed in Slate caused many eyes to roll and many heads to nod. But a particular passage from the article has stayed with me:
Whoa. Talk about a diss.
But she’s got a point. Graham has clearly done her share of Young Adult research. For many readers, the core expectation of many Young Adult/New Adult is the happy ever after (HEA) 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 for the future.
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 uplifting.
Take Cora Carmack's Losing It. Girl (almost) sleeps with professor, the two run into obstacles, somehow at the end find themselves in a relationship and holding hands by the end. It's neat. There's drama; there's conflict; but it all exists with the promise of a rainbow at the end. (Note: Cora was a guest on the CEFS podcast last year--listen here.)
What's wrong with the rainbow?
That's why many 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 novels. Even if they're not outright happy with a romantic relationship and a marriage on the way, there's still a sense of satisfaction by the end.
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 often 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.
“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.
Pema Donyo is a coffee-fueled college student by day and a creative writer by night. Her debut novel, The Innocent Assassins, was published with Astraea Press in June 2014. Catch up with her latest release information or writerly musings on her website: pemadonyo.wordpress.com.