Over the summer, I am tutoring one of my former students.
Together, we have been reading The Crossover by Kwame Alexander and The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, their summer reading work.
During tutoring time this week, we got into a conversation about happy endings, or “fairy tales.” They animatedly started explaining that they cannot stand that everything they read and watch has a happy ending. They noticed that in many books the parents push their child hard to succeed, the child rebels, but it all ends up okay in the end.
I asked them what the problem with that was.
They said: “Well, because that’s not what happens in real life.”
I kindly challenged them to think about why we read and watch things: often to escape and sometimes people need happy endings, when there are none in the world. They conceded but offered up the Series of Unfortunate Events as an example of entertainment that people liked, but did not have a happy ending.
Checkmate. I’ve taught you well.
At the end of the day, I agree with them. There seem to be a lot of happy endings in what we read and what we watch these days. And my student speaks the truth real life does not always have a happy ending. So, that made me think: are we setting people up for disappointment?
I say nay.
If we read to escape, to learn, to be entertained, there is a place for a happy ending. I say this without rose colored glasses. I think happy endings bring hope. We can only endure the harsh reality if we have hope that things can be better, that we can make things better.
However, trouble can ensue when the reader starts believing that fiction is reality; that happy endings will always arrive, no matter what. And, they mistake hope for certainty and naivety.
But, that does not mean that people cannot enjoy a happy ending every now and again. Right?