Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Serial Drama

A smattering of lines from some recent teen book reviews:

“And I'd further bet that the things that don't appear in this book will appear in others in the series.”
(From Tea Cozy's review of Prophecy of The Sisters)

“Ryan’s tale is certain to be popular with teen readers who will anxiously await a sequel.”
(From Alissa's review of The Forest of Hands and Teeth)

“and the ending of the novel is abrupt, begging for a sequel, instead of being a completely satisfying, self-contained whole on its own.”
(From The YaYaYas' review of Silver Phoenix)

“It ends almost as abruptly as The Fellowship of the Ring, with Todd and Viola standing on the precipice of a sequel some serious evil.”
(From Librarilly Blonde's review of The Knife of Never Letting Go)

I could go on in this vein for a while. (In fact, I deleted another 4 or 5 similar references already.) The number of recently-published books that have sequels attached, or plans for sequels, is overwhelming. Don’t get me wrong—when it’s a good book, I’m perfectly happy to go back and revisit that world. (Though, to be fair, I’m the kind of reader who has to exert serious effort to not read sequels to books I didn’t like.) I’m not anti-serial: I’m looking forward to Catching Fire, despite my complaint that The Hunger Games was a fantastic stand-alone, and there are plenty of books that I don’t think could work any other way than as a series (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, even Earthsea—anywhere there’s too much story to cram into one book). But there are plenty of books that have sequels, or sometimes just “companion books,” that don’t really need them. For instance, the otherwise-enjoyable 100 Cupboards (N.D. Wilson) contains a poorly-integrated afterthought of an epilogue that reintroduces our vanquished villain for Book 2, and Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains was barely even published before word was out about Forge.

Maybe it’s a marketing decision (an established product is more likely to sell), or maybe it’s a laziness thing on the authors’ parts (surely it’s easier to revisit an established world than to invent a whole new one). Maybe it’s publishers’ reactions to the idea that Teens Don’t Read Anymore (I disagree, but that’s another post), so if we can hook them on one book maybe we’ll convince them to read three or four in the exact same vein. Maybe it’s due to the popularity of manga and its 40+-volume serials, and publishers of prose novels are assuming sequels are the way to keep up. Maybe it’s a simple resistance to change, the safe cocoon of characters and world settings with which we’re already familiar. I don’t know—I’m throwing darts at a map, but I don’t believe it’s entirely any one of these things. It does make me wonder, though: when did we get so reliant on having every conclusion spelled out for us? What’s so wrong with ambiguity, that we can’t have an open-ended book without immediately clamoring for a sequel?


Sharon said...

I agree. I have very mixed feelings about this. Part of me is super cynical and thinks that authors do this so that they don't have to write a decent ending (very few authors end books in ways I like). I am really really tired of the cliffhangers though. I mean, from a marketing standpoint I get that they want to get kids hooked and having a sequel locks in future purchases, but is it really necessary? I have a lot of respect for authors who write novels that can stand alone. A great example of this is Sharon Draper's Battle of Jericho and November Blues. The two novels complement each other but they each stand alone on their own merit.

Maybe this is all tied into the fact that I'm tired of authors who just write and write and write with no regard for precision and conservation of language. I have so much respect for authors who can write a moving and short novel. All that fluff isn't necessary... ahem, Stephenie Meyer.

Alissa said...

I have to say that I like series and sequels.... wait, let me rephrase... well written series and sequels. I love revisiting characters and worlds that I have fallen in love from in the first book. Also, I think that I'd rather have multiple books to fully complete the storyline rather than one massively huge book or an story that leaves too many questions unanswered. I also think that has to unfold naturally- you can't start by saying you're going to write a 5 book series cause if the story is at a natural end by book 3, you're in trouble.