Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Stars Flip Life and Art

“Life imitates art.”  We’ve all heard that.  And sometimes it happens.  But sometimes life – which is typically messier, less structured, and less satisfying than well-conceived art, actually goes beyond art in reaching a meaningful resolution.

Mark here, writing for Wendelin.  Not because she’s extra busy (which she is – Colton graduates from college this weekend and we’re planning a celebration) but because sometimes things are better related by a third party observer than by someone in the thick of it… maybe think of Nick & Jay in Gatsby.

We just saw The Fault in Our Stars.  This isn’t a film review, but in brief: we liked it and thought the film did a great job of faithfully bringing the book to the screen.  However, for me the most interesting part of the plot was a subplot about, well… a book plot.  Speaking generically—so as not to get too spoilerish for the three among you who haven’t yet read the book—the protagonist has a favorite book which she absolutely loves, but the ending is open-ended and she really wants to know ‘what happens after the end of the book’.  The non-answer she finally gets might be satisfactory for a disinterested middle-aged intellectual, but it doesn’t really work for an emotionally-invested teenager.  (Which is part of the point, I suppose.)

Now flash-forward (or back, or sideways, depending on where you’re standing in time) to a small bookstore far, far away (the Midwest) at a time long, long ago (six weeks as I write this).  We’re doing an in-store event as part of our tour.  Among the people in attendance are a teenage boy and his mother.  The boy has a physical challenge which—among other things—renders his speech a bit slower than some of us (perhaps cerebral palsy?) but he is clearly an avid reader and really bright.  And it’s also clear—from his interactions with his mother as well as from what follows—that he’s an incredibly sweet young man.

After the ‘presentation’ part of our presentation, we typically take questions.  This boy has a few questions, and his final one is basically “What happens after the end of Flipped?”  But you could tell from his demeanor that this was the reason he and his mom drove three hours to see us.  The other questions were just a warm-up, but this was something hugely significant to him.

Wendelin has been asked related questions about Flipped exactly one zillion times.  (Usually some version of, “Are you going to write a sequel?”)  And all she typically says is that she’s not going to write a sequel—she really likes the open-yet-hopeful way the story ends because it makes the reader think, rather than wrapping everything up with a nice bow.  And she usually leaves it at that.  But this boy already knew the above… his query was centered around the deeper issue of, “What do you—as the creator of these characters—think might happen with Julie and Bryce beyond the last page of the book?”  And Wendelin—in a life-exceeds-art move—made a one-time exception for this emotionally-invested teen regarding ‘never discussing Flipped beyond-the-ending-as-written’, and gave him her heartfelt opinion as to what might become of Julie and Bryce.

When she finished, the boy let out a huge sigh—he had literally been holding his breath—and just enthusiastically nodded his thanks through his tears, over and over.  It was one of those moments—in a trip filled with thousands of moments—that I will never, ever forget.


Gabrielle said...

My friend lent me Her The Fault In Our Stars book, and I'm gonna read it. I kind of like when books are open ended. Because, you can come up with your own ending. But sometimes you do wonder what the author thinks would happen to characters. That's really amazing how that boy came just to know what Wendelin thought would be a good ending, and that's super sweet she did!
Hope very in had a good Father's Day and has a great week!


Yusa said...

I read TFIOS last summer and unfortunately the country I am in for the summer hasn't mentioned its release yet. I refuse to talk about it until I return to the US because i have long awaited this movie.

He was a lucky exception. I wish we could all know but i guess we arent all meant to know. I havent had this dying urge in a lot of books but John Green does do that to me with Papertowns if anyone has read it...

Sometimes exceptions do need to be made and its great that you know when...


Jessica said...

I find it hard to comment on this one because I personally couldn't relate to TFIOS, and I know most people loved it. I think you phrased it perfectly -- it felt to me like I was reading something by a "disinterested, middle-aged intellectual" rather than a teenage girl. Which I know it was (okay, disinterested seems harsh -- I don't mean to say that John Green doesn't care), but I think that's the difference -- Wendelin will never be a "disinterested, middle-aged" person -- she's taken a dip in the Fountain of Youth.

I liked the open-endedness of Flipped. In some stories, it feels like a cop-out (like the author has just created a mess and given up on solving it), but in general, I like being able to imagine how the story might continue. (Like in The Running Dream, the reader can have a pretty good guess about who the mystery character is, but it's more realistic that Jessica never would find out.)

But I'm glad Wendelin realized how invested the boy was and decided to break her rule about "what comes after."

Kylie said...

Summer vacation has me really confused on days. Although I should have realized that it was Sunday seeing as it was Father's day.

I read TFIOS around a month after it first came out, and I loved it. But after reading it a few more times I love it a little less each time. Don't get me wrong, I think it is a wonderful book, but there are a few things that bug be with the book. I have read John Green's other books and I really like them all. I think the issue I have with TFIOS is that once it became super popular I was reading the most famous quotes over and over again so when I read them in the book they were less powerful. If that makes any sense.

I loved the movie, especially how well it stayed true to the book. I do wish that some of the sub-plots that were in the book were in the movie, but I understand that somethings have to be left out.

Open-endedness in books and I have mixed feelings. I do agree with Jessica that some authors get sloppy and just decided to let the readers figure out what happens for themselves. But other times authors leave the perfect amount of open-endedness, just enough to where the reader has an idea of what might happen but can still put their own twist to it.

Yusa- I just recently read Paper Towns and I loved it. I really liked the whole concept of how people take someone they barely know, create this totally different personality of them, and have a crush on that personality. I think this happens to a lot of people and it was really nice to see it addressed in how terrible it can be to do this.

Wendelin this is so sweet of you. Sometimes it is nice to know that the author has a great idea for what becomes of their characters.

Have a great week everyone! And congrats on your son's graduation!


Jessica said...

Does anyone watch American Ninja Warrior? Tonight they're going to have a single-leg amputee challenge the course.

Yusa said...

Kylie: I also like that thing about Papertowns I felt like I related to that more than any other book. And it ws more mystery than romance so that was intruiging haha since I have a thing for mystery (cough sammy keyes cough)

Harriet said...

I really want to read The Fault In Our Stars but I'm on a waiting list at the library (I've been on it since April...what the heck?).
The story about the boy is adorable. Flipped has got to be one of my favorite books! I've always wondered what happened after the end, but somehow not having an ending set in stone makes it sort of enchanting.

Unknown said...

What a lovely post. It is another reminder of how much we need books, how we need all they do for us.

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

This young man was smart and so sweet and determined. I'm glad Mark put it into words, because I don't know if I could have.

Thanks to everyone for the comments. I want to underscore that Mark made a comparison b/w the actions of a fictional author and a real life author, not a critique of or comparison of books.

Now, who else loved the egg-throwing scene in TFIOS???

Caradith Craven said...

I loved the egg-throwing scene, especially Augustus's comments to the girl's mother and her reaction. I liked the actors who played the main characters and thought the movie was well done and true to the book. The final scenes were very touching.

Kylie said...

I loved that scene, especially what Isaac said so Gus. I alos loved the trophy scene. All truly fantastic.

All this talk about Flipped makes me want to read it again, seeing as I haven't read it in ages.

Jessica said...

Sorry, I should have been more careful in my wording in my comment. I know most people loved TFIOS. I can see objectively that it is a good book, very layered, and that you could get a lot out of rereading it. It was obvious John Green put a lot of work (and a lot of himself) into writing it. But every time Hazel talked about books about cancer (which was a lot), I was reminded that this was just a book, written by a man, and so the characters never felt real to me. It's like when I was watching the last LOTR movie, and Frodo's alone climbing the mountain, and I thought, "That's Elijah Wood, a full-sized human, not a Hobbit" -- and immediately I could not see him as a Hobbit again until the movie showed him next to full-sized humans and re-tricked my perspective. That's nothing on the author or director; just my own brain messing up my enjoyment of their works.

I just watched some clips of the movie (to remember the egg-throwing and trophy scenes) and they looked pretty great.

I will confess that though I usually don't get why people look at the back of the book, after the third time Hazel mentioned how disappointing the end of her favorite book was, I did flip to the back and make sure it didn't end the same way. But John Green has a whole Tumblr account dedicated to answering questions from his readers, and he provides a lot of answers about what he thinks happens after TFIOS ends (or at least strongly implies the answers). I only read about 10 or so pages, but when I looked at it, it was dozens of pages long. So he is definitely not his fictional author.

Unknown said...

I, personally, like it when the end of a story wraps everything up completely. I haven't got much of an imagination, and I'm a total neat-freak and a perfectionist, so when something is unfinished or open-ended, I hate it. I have to be secure in the knowledge that the characters have completed their story.

Unknown said...

Hey Mrs. Draanen, my name is Anna. My friends Ally, Hannah and I were assigned to read you book, Flipped, in our reading class. We LOVED it but we feel it would be in your and our best interest if you wrote a sequel. We would really like to know how Bryce and Juli end up. Thank you for you time and consideration!