Last week I spent a day at Hornell High School in Hornell, New York. Great students, cool teachers, a wonderful librarian - good times. It was while I was there that I was asked one of the best questions anyone has ever asked me about my YA books.
Strike that - about any of my books.
During lunch with the AP Psychology class, one of the students asked if I thought my books would have the same impact if I had somehow worked in a traditional happy ending. That may not be the word-for-word question, but you get the drift. And this isn't the word-for-word answer I gave, but I'll try to get it in the ballpark.
I could easily see how I could have writen happy(ier) endings for YOU and FALL FROM GRACE and the one I'm revising now (THE CALLER). It would take some tweaking of all the foreshadowing and I'd have to inrtroduce a few caring adults into the mix, but I can see how I could have done it in each book. And I can see how it would have ruined them all.
With a complete happy ending, you get one and only one way to solve the problems addressed in the book. The less happy the ending (i.e. the less wrapped up with a tddy bow), the more opportunity to envision alternative endings, the room for discussion and disagreement. For example, think of the movie Casablanca [Spoiler Alert!]- If Rick left with Ilsa, we'd get the happy ending we'd hoped for. But when she flies off with Victor leaving Rick and Capt. Renault, we get a brilliant ending, filled with open-ended questions and endless discussion (at least at our house) of what happened next.
Unhappy endings are like life itself - it's not what you may want but what you get--and what you do with it--that counts.