Thursday, September 24, 2015

Open Endings

The other day I read the same short story aloud five times.  "Under the Rug," by Jon Scieszka, is one of fourteen stories in Chris Van Allsburg's The Chronicles of Harris Burdick.  You may remember The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, published in 1984 as a collection of pictures with just the title and a quote from the allegedly missing story.  In 2011, "14 Amazing Authors," just like it says on the front cover, each wrote a story to accompany one illustration, sticking to the original title and "quote" the picture illustrated.  I chose Scieszka's because it is short, funny, and relies on the reader to make some rather simple inferences.

The new version
The Original, with the illustration Scieszka wrote about.

As I read the story aloud to each class, it was immediately clear who was getting it, and who wasn't.  "Where did that cat get to?" mutters grandma, and two classes gasped and giggled, realizing that the dust monster must have snacked on the kitty.  Three classes, however, sat in stony silence.  The end was even more revealing--spoiler--when the narrator calls grandma out to get eaten by the monster.  Even in the classes that hadn't commented on the cat's disappearance, a few kids said, "What?  Did he just kill his grandma?" and the classes that were following all along--well, they pretty much went berserk.

Many students, however, had no reaction whatsoever to the ending, and when I prodded them, were unable to tell me what had happened.  "I don't know...he asked her to come to the living room.  To sweep, I guess?"

The rest of the class took them through it, and we finally got everyone to understand what Scieszka had made pretty clear already.  The whole thing prompted me to start asking them how they handle it when authors leave things open to interpretation, which in turn got me thinking about a good blog discussion question.

How clearly do you like the author to spell things out?  In this particular example, it's clear what Scieszka intended, and I think it's fun that he lets you imagine what comes next.  Inferring comes easily to me after years of reading and life experience.  However, many of my struggling readers were lost.  They needed things described and pinned down.


Do you want to have all the loose ends tied up and all the mysteries explained?  Or do you like an ending that could be interpreted in more than one way?  The Giver is a classic YA novel with an open ending. The recent publication of Son makes it clear that Jonas and Gabe survived, but even Lowry said for years that she intended it to be up to the reader, and that some readers were angry at her for "killing them off," while others were sure that the boys made it safely to Elsewhere.  Would that kind of ending drive you nuts, or fill you with joy?  I was fine with that ending, but Tana French's In the Woods frustrated the heck out of me when I realized that although the mystery of the day had been solved, the mystery of the past, with its implications of supernatural dangers, was not going to be explained.

Where do you fall on the spectrum?


  1. I think I fall somewhere in the middle. I appreciated the ending to The Giver and sometimes enjoy an open ending when it's done well (for instance, I really liked the ending to the Delirium series and I know lots of people didn't), but then sometimes I just really dislike an open ending and it makes me crazy! I can't even definitively define the difference between the two circumstances, though!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

  2. Thanks for playing along, Nicole! If I ever get more responses, I'll let you know what the extremely scientific findings were.

  3. I think it is bad writing when things are introduced, sometimes in great detail, only to be left out by the end of the book. It seems forgotten, not done on purpose. Open endings have to be done right, otherwise it the story feels like a waste of time, you know? I want the author's interpretation of what happened to his/her characters, not have to create my own ending lol


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