WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD
Lately another Young Adult fiction controversy has popped up. The final book of the Divergent series (Allegiant) was released in late October. Once young adults read the ending, the blogosphere blew up. Debates began about the ending and fans wrote alternate endings (fanfic) because they were so disappointed. Yet other fans vehemently defended the author. The author herself, Veronica Roth, comments that the ending was foreseen by the end of the first book, and that this ending fit with her character’s personality, and completed the lesson that she learned at the end of the first book. I should mention that part of the reason that the ending drew such heated controversy is that the books have sold more books than the vaunted Hunger Games. In fact, the first movie of the Divergent series is about to be released. But, some question whether the movies will ever make it to the third book because of the ending.
The sales of her book put her in the same category as Harry Potter, Twilight, and Hunger Games. One of the little known facts is that three of the authors of these four popular series practice their faith. Veronica Roth comes out of the more Evangelical Christian background. J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter) is more out of the high church side of England, while Stephanie Meyer (Twilight) is Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon). Stephanie Meyer is quite open about being a Mormon and of keeping the abstentious lifestyle expected of Mormons. J.K. Rowling has openly talked about the Christian allegories ensconced in the Harry Potter series, including the final book, with Harry’s death and resurrection. Veronica Roth falls into that same mold, having attended Christian bible studies while in high school, and graduating from Northwestern University, an university with strong Christian affiliations.
All four of those authors deal with the theme of self-sacrifice and, of teenager alienation. All four of the authors share a view that teenagers will/have/are experience a dystopian future. Three of the four show the death of beloved friends, as part of what one can expect in the future. The fourth one shows death, but more of enemies than of friends. And, three of the four spend long long pages of internal soliloquy by an angst ridden teenage girl, but the large number of sales shows that these soliloquies are more true to life than many parents care to believe. All four had endings that raised some debate.
In Twilight, everything was resolved peacefully. In fact, it was resolved so peacefully that the movie version could not stand it and wrote in an entire “dream” scene of extreme violence and war. It was indirectly saying that the type of peaceful resolution pictured was too unrealistic. In Harry Potter, the novel that American Evangelical Christians loved to hate, it was claimed that Rowling was committing blasphemy by mixing a death/resurrection theme and mixing it with magic. In the Hunger Games, fans (including one daughter) were devastated that the heroine ended up as a PTSD ridden person in their early 20’s, who was living with (married?) the wrong guy, the guy who should not have really had her in one sense. And, on top of that, she was in seclusion, refusing to participate in the world she had helped to free. Now comes Allegiant, and the heroine is murdered. Not since the death of Sherlock Holmes has such fan ire been stirred up. She gives her life self-sacrificially for the greater community. She openly dies for others for love of them. But, the great love that has been budding for three books between her and Four never comes to fulfillment. There is no marriage. There is no family. There is no happy ending, only the recognition, in an epilogue, by Four that even the worst pain can be lived through and that friends are a crucial part of the healing process. At the end of the series, 2 1/2 years after the death of Tris, he is still periodically in pain, but healing. One can see the hope of a future relationship with another woman. Life goes on, and goes on much better because of Tris’ sacrifice.
And the fan explosion was heard around the blogosphere, just like it was with the finish of each of the other series by other authors. But, this brings up the question? What is an acceptable YA ending? Must all stories end with, “they lived happily ever after?” As emotionally jarring as it is to read the four endings, each one of them carries an important point with it. The Hunger Games points out what I see at the VA Medical Center in which I work. War can cause PTSD. For some people, simple emotional survival is success. Healing can take a long time, and relationships can take even longer. On a positive note, Twilight points out that no sex until marriage is good, abortion should not be done, and peacemaking is better than war. Harry Potter brings up the virtues of friendship, faithfulness, and, yes, death and resurrection. Not everything is what it seems, as C.S. Lewis pointed out in “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe,” and sometimes death is not really death. But, Allegiant points out that sometimes self-sacrifice means death. It means that you may not see the heroine again until some future time. Sometimes self-sacrifice leads to pain for those who survive you. And, yet, the major lesson is that greater love has no person than to give their life for another.
So, what is an acceptable ending to YA fiction? Unless you wish to argue that young adults should only be exposed to “happily ever after,” the various endings of the series above point out that we should be open to more than one possible ending for a YA series. This is true even if, like various fans wrote, you end up sobbing after Allegiant. Self-sacrifice can be celebrated with tears and memories. And, it may take a while to recover from the self-sacrifice of another. The various lessons of the various series have some reasonable soundness about them, and are appropriate for YA audiences.