As this is a discussion about endings, there will be spoilers ahead for the books I have reviewed and will be reviewing for Body Image and Self-Perception Month.
Several of the books that I have read for Body Image and Self-Perception Month have happy endings, with most if not all of the loose ends tied in. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, Last Chance, Girl Overboard, Jumping to Confusions and I Was A Teenage Fairy all have neat happy endings. As we all know, real life is not like that, some ends never get tied.
Some authors use open endings so that the tension created within the story continues on in the mind of the reader. This keeps the reader thinking about the story and the possibilities for the characters after they have finished the book. There is a sequel to Blood Ties, so it makes sense that the author left some ends hanging with Theo and Rachel's relationship. In Everything Beautiful, most of the ends are tied up, but although Riley gives Dylan her contact information, we never know how their relationship progresses. Fat Kid Rules The World is similar. These novels resolve most of the protagonists’ issues and point out the way that the characters could go, but avoid a completely neat finish - they don’t give us a guarantee that the characters will follow through on their plans.
Some authors think that it is more realistic not to resolve any of the issues raised by the story or cement the relationships, however they can also make us feel like the story didn’t really finish. For example, I know I’m not alone in feeling that Second Star To The Right finished abruptly, but it was based on the author’s experiences of anorexia, and she hadn’t recovered herself when she wrote the book. Massive doesn’t show us what happens to Carmen or her mother in the end. Although it is doubtful that Maria will ever recover, Carmen shows that she might be able to escape the illness in the final, Barbie-doll-destroying, scene.
I’ll admit to being a fan of happy endings, especially in books like these in which the protagonist has to go through a really hard time. I like to feel uplifted after all that struggle! Happy endings offer a message of hope to the reader, and suggest that they can overcome their body issues too, which I think is really important.
In the comments on Luisa Plaja’s guest post on Once Upon A Bookcase, Jo raised the issue of books in which the protagonist starts to feel better about themselves once they have a romantic partner/interest. I actually find books in which the ending has the boy or girl feeling good about themselves because the person they likes likes them back depressing. I think self-esteem should come from within and that it’s a really bad idea to let your self-esteem depend on someone else’s opinion of you. People can, of course, help you learn to love yourself more, as we see in many of these stories. But if one person is the sole reason for your new-found happiness in your own skin, what happens if they break up with you, or move away, or stop liking you?
In Jumping to Confusions, the protagonist doesn’t change her relationship with anyone else except Josh, and that made me slightly uncomfortable. She feels better about her body because a boy likes it, which on the one hand could prove to her forever that she is attractive, but if she broke up with Josh and then went through a long period of time without another boyfriend, she might feel completely unattractive all over again. Compare this with Fat Kid Rules The World, which is about a friendship rather than a romantic relationship, but it begins with Troy deciding not to kill himself simply because Curt has shown interest in him. Curt shows Troy that he can develop talents and find confidence from them, and by the end, Troy is confident enough to stand up to Curt. I think this is brilliant!
Families have a lot to do with self-esteem and I went into this in more detail in my guest post at Once Upon A Bookcase. Some of the happy endings in the BI&SP books involve the protagonist standing up to their parents. Troy argues Curt’s case to his Dad, and Virginia in The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things tells her parents that her weight is no longer up for discussion. Syrah of Girl Overboard learns how to talk her parents around to her point of view, and Barbie from I Was A Teenage Fairy changes her name and career. These stories all show characters that learn to be more confident and self-protective. They start to rely less on other people to feel good about themselves, and I think this is doing it right!
What kind of endings do you prefer? Do you believe open endings are more realistic? Where do you think self-esteem can and should come from?