Earlier this week, one of the few days we were in school without snow and ice days, one of my students stopped to talk to me after class. This is not an odd occurrence because the students have lunch after this particular block so they’re not rushing to be on-time for a class – but I digress. The conversation began with my student recommending a book to me. Then the conversation took a turn. The young lady was upset and needed to share that she was upset. And as an aside, I love that books can be the bridge to start to build the teacher – student relationship since connections with teachers are so important to middle school students. At first I thought she was upset about a grade or an assignment or a peer. Nope. None of the above. She was upset because she had just finished the first two books of a series, and she now had to wait until July to find out what was going to happen next.
In the grand scheme of middle school life, this is a minor problem. A very minor problem. However, it is a problem. We started commiserating about having to wait for the next books in series. This particular student recommended Shiver and Linger by Maggie Stiefvater to me, so I began by saying how I couldn’t wait for the next book to come out. She agreed with me, and then shared that it was coming out in July (July 12, 2011 to be exact). Of course that realization made her a bit more upset. I mentioned the next book in the Gone series by Michael Grant will be out in June (and I was wrong; it will be out April 5, 2011). And last year when I finished reading Lies, I couldn’t believe I had to wait an entire year for the next book. She agreed with my feelings and lack of patience. Then I mentioned that City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare will be out in something like 65 days (not that I’m counting – also April 5, 2011). She mentioned the countdown on Clare’s website, and we bonded over The Mortal Instruments website. (Of all the books we’re waiting for, I think Clare’s novel comes out first.) During this conversation, we both realized we only had two more months to wait for one of the books on our list, which made both of us bit happier. I grabbed my lunch bag, and we both headed off to lunch as we chatted about books.
That evening when I got home, I was perusing my TBR pile, and I realized something startling. Of the next ten books I want to read at least five of them are part of a series. So what is it about series that makes us count the days until the next book is released?
I feel that there are a few things that make series so appealing to readers – teens or otherwise. First, there’s no worry about what to read next. My students and I don’t have to pour through the library shelves, staring aimlessly at book covers and wondering what’s good. There’s no fear of picking up a book and hating it. The series takes the question out of “What do I read next?”
Secondly, returning to a series is like returning to school after summer vacation. The reader gets to catch up with favorite characters and old nemesises, and the reader gets to experience new adventures with their favorite character. As a middle schooler, I couldn’t get enough of Anne of Green Gables. And while the first three books were easy to find, the rest of the books in the series caused my family and I to search far and wide to track down all the books. Of course this was before the internet and the mega-bookstore. As I read the Chronicles of Avonlea, it was as if I was catching up with an old friend.
Thirdly, books written as a series usually are full of action and suspense. Teens love action. They prefer books that are plot driven, and many books written as series are plot driven. I also want to give the authors credit. While it does cause those of us following a series angst, books within a series will end without all the loose ends tied up, which is why many of us were in the stores the day that Mockingjay or Harry Potter or Breaking Dawn was released.
And for those of you who have been following the blog, I did find a Schmidt’s Pick for February – The Maze Runner by James Dashner. And it is part of a series.
Until next time, see YA!
You are so very right about the characters in book series becoming like old friends, role models, or even heroes. I agree, too, that series books – being mostly plot-driven and full of non-stop action – can be a tremendous escape – even for an old guy like me.
I think it’s great that a student will initiate a conversation with you about their favorite books, characters, and writing style. But I wonder if you have ever had a student approach you with disappointment after the next book in their favorite series failed to deliver on the promise of the books that came before? I would have agreed with your assessment of the virtues of series – until I read “Mockingjay.” Like some of your students, I waited from February until August for the third book in “The Hunger Games” series to be published – so much so that when my preorder from Barnes & Noble didn’t arrive on the release date, I drove to my local Borders and bought it – leaving me with two copies… Two copies, that is, of a book I wished I had not wasted my time on.
Collins did surprising things with the last book of her trilogy. She had characters think and do things completely out of character. (And this is surprising for Collins who tends to tell you everything Katniss thinks in her running “should I/shouldn’t I” commentary.) She further all but abandoned the psychological drama – which was so compelling about the previous books in the series – in favor of action. It was the first time I felt that the last book in a series wasn’t actually part of the series. And it leads me to believe that series are not always the result of the author – or the characters – having more to say and do but, rather, a reflection on the commercial success of series for the very reasons you describe: The need to know “what happens next” will always translate into outrageous sales figures, even if what happens next is… nothing. We will never know – unless we buy the book.
“The Hunger Games” is one series which I personally felt could have successfully been wrapped into one long book (which is not terribly appealing to young people who like to digest things in quick bites) or – at most – two really good books. Have any of your students commented on their disappointment with “Mockingjay?” Or are the nuances I describe lost on the YA reader? And what do we say to someone who waited so long for the next book… only to experience the same disappointment I did?
Thanks for your blog. It’s awesome!
My students are very quick to verbalize their disappointment. A number of them felt the same way you did about Mockingjay, so you’re not alone. In many ways, I think a teen audience can be an even harsher critic than an adult audience. There’s nothing worse than a teen who feels s/he has been wronged in some way, and if a book in a series doesn’t come through, they do feel that they’ve been wronged. I’ve watched them give up on entire series because of this. Interestingly, a number of students who were Harry Potter fans gave up as the series went on because the books got so long and unwieldly. In speaking with them about it, they shared that they felt Rowling that the increased length of the book was nothing more than a stunt, and that all the extra description took away from the book. Ultimately, Rowling lost readers. And to return to the Collins series, I was booktalking The Maze Runner the other day, I told the students if they liked The Hunger Games, they would probably like The Maze Runner. I then mentioned the second book in the trilogy, The Scorch Trials, will be available in our class library soon, and the final book in the trilogy will be out this summer. One of my students who read The Hunger Games trilogy and Dashner’s books raised her hand, to say that The Scorch Trials was much better than Catching Fire, so she was hoping the third book would be better than Mockingjay.
You know, I spent most of my teen years and my adult life avoiding books that were part of a series. I suppose I always had the feeling that books in a series were just a commercial ploy. The Hunger Games changed all that for me. I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books. Some of my students and I were disappointed in Mockingjay, but I think we all learned a great deal – as readers and as writers – through discussing the third book.
My disappointment in Mockingjay didn’t make me shy away from other series books like Gone, The Maze Runner or The Knife of Never Letting Go, and although I may be disappointed again in the future (have not been with these series so far), I am beginning to like the feeling of returning to familiar characters and extended plotlines. Yes, the wait is tough, but there’s something exciting about looking forward to that next book, too. Great blogpost, y_a reader. Thanks!
Mardie, I think you bring up an interesting point about series being commercial ploys. As an adult, I’ve avoided series because I didn’t want to be beholden to reading the entire series since there’s so much out there to read. I think Louise Rennison’s Georgia Nicholson series changed that for me. I can say that all the books coming out that I’m excited about are series: The Plague by Michael Scott, The City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare, The Warlock by Michael Scott, and Forever by Maggie Stiefvater (and of course I’m sure there are others that I’ve forgotten). Most importantly, I like that the anticipation of the publication of the next book in a series helps to build a reading community in my classroom. Thanks for your feedback!