Saturday, January 31, 2015

Writers and Their Readers

A few days ago, I finished reading Veronica Roth's Allegiant, the conclusion to her Divergent trilogy. After I finished it, I wanted to know what other people thought about the ending, since I knew there was controversy surrounding it. I want to talk about the controversy without giving away what happened, so I'll say this: Some people were upset to the point of making death threats. Now, it is possible that the people who said things like, "I've never wanted to do bodily harm to an author before. If I was to see Ms. Roth on the street right this minute, I’d prob punch her in the throat. Really I would" could just be exaggerating. Maybe none of the people who reacted that way or in a similar way actually meant it. Does it make their responses appropriate? I'd have to say no.

It's fine to not like the way Allegiant ended. I hated what Roth did with the characters; I was attached to them and didn't want them to end up where they did. But it's important to note that while I didn't like what happened to the characters, I felt like it was completely true to the story and who the characters were.

What really strikes me with this controversy is the discussion about what responsibility writers have to their readers. In a blog post about Allegiant, Roth said that while writing Allegiant, "I've said before that this ending was always a part of the plan, but one thing I want to make clear is that I didn't choose it to shock anyone, or to upset anyone, or because I’m ruthless with my characters—no, no, no. I may have been ruthless with other characters, in the past, but not with her, never with her. And I wasn't thinking about any readers when I wrote this book; I was thinking about the story, because trying to meet the expectations of so many readers would be paralyzing. There’s no way to please everyone, because that mythical book with the ending that every single person wants can’t exist—you want different things, each one of you. The only thing I can do, in light of that fact, is write an honest story as best I can."

I think that Roth did the right thing in thinking about her story, not her readers, while she was writing Allegiant, because she's right in that you can't create a perfect ending that everyone will be happy with. If she was thinking about her readers, the story could have had a vastly different ending, and I don't think it would been the right one. I disagree with readers who think the ending was unrealistic and/or lazy. I thought the ending was the opposite of lazy; it was very difficult to read, and I imagine that means it was also very difficult to write. More than that, I think it was completely realistic. Tris's and Tobias's actions seemed to be perfectly in line with who they were throughout the series, and if they had acted any differently, then the story would have been unrealistic. Caleb Graves of the blog Bibliofiend said in a post, "There is something that we, as readers, need to remember when we become so attached to books. First off, the author does not owe us anything. It is that author's story, to do with how they see fit - or really, as they see is right for what they are trying to capture with that story. Similarly, readers do not owe authors unlimited devotion. They are free to disagree and even dislike an author's choice."

It's so easy to feel like a book belongs to you after you've read it. I feel that way often, and it's why I sometimes struggle with recommending books to others (my thought process when this happens: that book is mine, and no one else can have it!). I think it's fair to say a novel becomes ours when we read it, and I love what Roth said about it in her blog post about the whole controversy: ""You are allowed—encouraged!— to continue to feel however you want to feel, or think however you want to think, about the ending, no matter what this blog post says. I’m the author, yes, but this book is yours as
well as mine now, and our voices are equal in this conversation."

Roth is right. There isn't always one right way to read a book. Are the people who think Allegiant had a lazy ending that was unrealistic wrong to think that? No. Are the people who think the ending was realistic and satisfying (but devastating) wrong to think that? No. Even when those disagreements happen among readers and authors, there's no right or wrong. Roth can say she ended the book the way she did for certain reasons, and we don't have to agree with what she did. Even though she's the writer, our opinions are not any less valid, and they aren't wrong. That's the beauty of the relationship between writers and readers, but perhaps in some ways, that's the danger of it, too. Being able to disagree is a wonderful thing, but feeling that authors owe us something (or authors feeling that readers owe them something) because we become so attached to their books is not.

Have you read the Divergent series, or kept up with the controversy? If so, tell me your thoughts on it--the books, the controversy, everything!--in the comments below.

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