Saturday, April 4, 2009

A love-hate affair with cliffhangers

JJ hanging off the cliff @ the gordges

The last really good children's books I've read, Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games and Michael Grant's Gone were cliffhangers. Although Collins and Grant had dropped several hints near the end of their novels that their protagonists aren't in the clear yet, I feel that the books would've been better as stand-alone titles. Waiting for Collins and Grant's second installment is torture.

I'm guessing that cliffhangers are popular among children's books because children and young adults need a good reason to read the series, and what better reason than providing an unresolved storyline. The cliffhanger works well in young adult books that are sci-fi/fantasy in themes. Because these novels feature a vast array of characters, the reader ends up relating or rooting to one. The beauty of the cliffhanger is that it compels the reader to follow his or her favorite character as the series progresses.

I love a good cliffhanger. That's why I sat through the entire series of "Prison Break" one weekend. With books, cliffhangers take on a different meaning. The book really has to be written well and with well-developed characterizations to force the reader to go through the experience again. With young adult book series, you just never know if the second book will be as good as the first. In the hands of a talented novelist, the quality of writing and the suspense never waver as you move from one book to the next. Sometimes though, you can be disappointed.

Scott Westerfeld's The Midnighters Trilogy is one good example of a terribly inconsistent series. The trilogy is about a group of adolescents who discover that, when the world becomes frozen at the stroke of midnight, certain dark spirits haunt this midnight hour. The first book, The Secret Hour, was compelling because of that Twilight Zone feel. The second book, Touching Darkness, was a bore. I didn't even bother buying the third book, even though I saw it in the bargain bin. His other series, the Uglies Trilogy, was better and I believe the books had a wide readership, with Westerfeld even coming out with a stand alone fourth book.

I wish that serial YA books were written in such a way that each book can stand on its own merit. Each Harry Potter book can be enjoyed as it is, although the experience becomes more meaningful if you read all seven of them. Clive Barker's Abarat, a supposed quartet, is also another example of this sort, although it seems it's taking Barker forever to finish the third book. Another great YA series is Lian Hearn's Tales of the Otori; the first novel, Across the Nightingale Floor, is simply too good.


Kelly said...

I totally agree with you! There's got to be a way to make the book enjoyable on its own but still have continuity in a series. I just finished Cycler, which has a sequel due out but who knows when? Argh!