Monday, July 2, 2012

Hanging By A Moment

A little while ago I was reading a book, as I am wont to do. I was reading it on my ereader, so I didn't really realize that I was almost at the end. Had I been reading the paper copy I would have noticed that there were only a few pages left and NONE of the major conflicts had been wrapped up. I got to the end of the book and thought it was just the end of a chapter because the characters were still right there in the middle of the conflict, so I kept swiping and swiping and...yup. The end. I had been given no indication that this book was the first in the series, and on the last page it literally said "If you want to find out what happens to these characters, check out the next book!"

What? No.

You guys, I was so irritated. I guess I don't mind cliffhangers so much when I know I'm getting into a story that is going to continue over the course of several books. And I don't mind it so much when some of the story threads have been wrapped up, but others are left hanging. But this particular book asked a question on page 1, never got close to answering it, and asked other questions throughout that it also didn't even get close to answering.

This experience sort of soured me on cliffhangers, even though I know it's not the norm. So I asked a few of our spies and analysts as well as some of my former students for their thoughts on cliffhanger endings.

Kyla: Michael Grant's Gone series always ends with a cliffhanger. I love it because it makes me remember the book. If a book series doesn't have a good cliffhanger then I forget about it amongst the other books I read and won't read the next installment. (I have to admit that this hasn't ever occurred to me, but the truth is, the average teen doesn't track every book on Goodreads and have a calendar of upcoming releases like I do, so this is something to consider.)

Lynsay: I like cliffhangers that are not totally ridiculous. If they solve the major problems, but leave some important unanswered questions looming in the background, I'm okay with that. Sometimes though, if there are too many loose ends, it can get irritating.  I like it if the first book of a series introduces some short term issues that are answered in the first book and some long term issues that are answered throughout the series.

ChihuahuaZero: I don't think too much of cliffhanger endings. I can't think of any books, even the best ones, that do them well enough for me to be yearning for the next book with a passion. However, they don't bother me much either.

RivRe: The first cliffhanger that comes to mind, of course, is Catching Fire. (I don't need to say it, but that four month wait after I read it was absolute torture.) And with Catching Fire on my mind, I of course hate cliffhangers. But having read the sequel, all I can this is INTENSE INTENSE INTENSE EPICALLY INTENSE.
In general, cliffhangers sometimes bother me. I hate when a book is just a prologue that went on a few tangents, and absolutely nothing happens to resolve the plot, and it's all just a conspiracy to make me buy the next book. It's a conspiracy! Open your eyes, sheeple! The moon-landing was fake! IT'S A CON--*ahem* Sorry. I don't mind when the book is resolved, and the bad guys all die, and the couple kisses romantically, and there are a few loose ends, like what happened to Sisyphus the Hamster* and Bob. But I hate when the bad guys don't all die, and the couple only has an almost-kiss, and then we turn the page and an asparagus say out "tune in next time to hear..." Wait. Is that only on VeggieTales? (ACK...this is exactly what happened in the book I just read! And it wasn't a VeggieTales book!)
As for specific books, I felt like the aforementioned Catching Fire was pretty epic. The Hunger Games had a really good ending, inviting me to read the next book without forcing me to. And Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater was a beautiful, wonderful ending.
That completely optional invitation is what makes the cliff-hanger so amazing. The ball is in my park, and it's entirely my choice whether to keep going or not.

*tFiOS joke

Ana: Cliffhangers are fine if I have the next book ready to read. If I have to wait a year to find out what happens, I am angry, but not for long. Soon, I'm filled with an overwhelming need to knowthat stays at the back of my mind until I can get my hands on the sequel. From a book-selling standpoint, that's a fantastic way to sell books because even if I wasn't a big fan of the novel and might not have otherwise sprung for the sequel, a cliffhanger makes me want to know the outcome so bad that I buy it anyway. An example that comes to mind is Goddess Interrupted by Aimee Carter. I didn't really think much of the novel until the end where I met a cliffhanger so surprising, I will do anything to get at Book 3. Another book from this year which possibly had one of the best cliffhangers I've ever read is Ashes by Ilsa Bick. I have the publication date of it's sequel well memorized, yet I visit its Goodreads page every month to check...what? I have no idea.

Lexie: For me, it depends on how the cliffhanger is done.  I think it can either be a great marketing device, or just flat irritating.  I find the former to be when the novel is still a very complete novel with its own, full storyline, but the author still manages to end on a cliffhanger--then the reader is satisfied, but still begging for more.  The latter is when the novel doesn't really have any closure, or any full plotline--the cliffhanger is very sudden, making it feel more like the book was chopped in half.  That just grates on me, and is so obviously a marketing device that it makes me less inclined to buy the next book.

Randi: Oh, cliff hangers. I have a love/hate relationship with cliffhangers. It all depends on how they feel when you read them. If the book was bad or boring, and it ends with a cliff hanger with another book on the way, I think it feels like a cop out and a cheap trick to keep you reading. However, occasionally,a cliff hanger will come along that feels real and shocking, and there for a purpose. Those are the kind I like. I think they're used way too often in a lot of new YA though.

Erica: I personally like cliffhangers when they are done right. They get me really excited for the next book and keep the hype up. Where I have an issue with cliffhangers is when they story isn't complete. Too often I feel like one of two things happen - either a) They story is not finished, it is merely chopped off at a high point with a "to be continued" or b) The story was wrapped up nicely, but we need something to happen so we can have a sequel so we will throw some crazy shenanigans in the last few chapters. So basically as long as the major plot thread from the current book is tied up well and leaves something else open, cliffhangers are fine by me. Looking at my shelves a few more recent books that have done cliffhangers well are A Touch Morbid by Leah Clifford, The Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa, Wings of the Wicked by Courtney Moulton, and Goddess Interrupted by Aimee Carter.

Emily: I think generally I like cliffhanger endings--so long as it leads into another book. It seems like a really successful tactic for making sure people keep buying your books too. However, at the same time I feel like by the time the next book comes out, it's pretty hard to pick up right where you left off. I think cliffhangers are best used in series that have less complex plots. Two examples of this would be The Sisters Grimm series and the Alex Rider series. In both cases the books are fairly short/easy reads, and they don't have a lot of crazy characters and plot-lines to keep track of.

A couple of other examples of books that I thought rocked the cliffhanger:

Harry Potter - I love how each book had its own individual story that wrapped up in each book, and it was the overall story of Harry vs. Voldemort that kept us reading and wondering. (Although Book 6 sure ended with a doozy!)

Daughter of Smoke and Bone - I think if this book had been written as a standalone I would have been perfectly fine with the way it ended. But since I know there is more to come I am DYING to know where this story is going to go. I think that's the best way to end a series book.

What are your thoughts on cliffhanger endings? Do you like them or do they drive you nuts? What are some books/series that you think do cliffhangers well?


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