Last fall I read The Forest of Hands and Teeth. I never thought I could fall in love with zombies. But I did. More than the zombies though, I loved Ms. Ryan's poetic, fluid writing.
Recently I read the companion novel, The Dead Tossed Waves. Truly a sequel that outdid the first book, if that's even possible.
Both of these books have me thinking about happy endings. Because, without spoiling anything for you, neither of these stories have them. Yet, somehow, I feel gratified and fulfilled at the completion of these books.
Now I've had friends that have strongly disliked the (first) book. In their mind there were too many questions left unanswered, they didn't like the style of writing, and the ending left anything but that warm-fuzzy feeling in the pit of their stomach.
So that brings me to a question that I've been mulling over. What makes a happy ending? And does a story have to have one to be a good read?
First, let me address the second question. My answer: NO.
Personally, I think if a story wraps up all nice and cozy at the end, every question answered, every rock overturned, that it looses something. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, but for me, the vast majority of the time, I like stories that make me ache in the end, just a bit. Sure, there's something to be said for a feel-good book, one that can just make you happy. But, for me at least, I like knowing the characters are still moving, still struggling, still living. Because that's what life is, isn't it?
So for the first question. My answer: It's complicated.
If you think about it, all the fairy tales we were read as children ended with "And they all lived happily ever after." The story was done. There wasn't much more to think about. Except as an adult now, I contemplate, "What is happy?" What Snow White's happy is, may not be mine. What your happy is may not be your neighbors.
But in a good book, a great story with world building and characterizations, you already know what happy is for them. What it is they want the most. You may even want it for them.
So in The Forest of Hands and Teeth (warning, spoiler ahead), all Mary wanted was to make it to the ocean. And she did. But it cost her greatly. However, that was her happily ever after, sacrifices and all. But to me, that's what made her so relatable.
It comes down to that one word: Sacrifice.
We all do it, don't we? In some small way, or in some large way, we've all sacrificed something for another thing. Sometimes that sacrifice is a mistake and sometimes it changes us for the better giving us something greater than we ever imagined.
That's why I think "happily ever afters" aren't the end all be all of a story. Because there's always something more. I say, hold your fork because the best is yet to come.