It all began with Star Wars, right? A trilogy: a story told in three parts that captivates its audience. Although many of us know that trilogies did not begin with George Lucas’s space adventure, today in Young Adult Literature, the trilogy reigns supreme. It seems as if every other author who is publishing a book has revealed that this new title is part of a trilogy or series. These books seem to be dragged out into multiple volumes merely to continue with a successful character or to appease some fan demand rather than because the author really has another story to tell. Some of them seem to divide the story into needlessly separated books either to make the length more palatable or (gasp) to make more money for the publisher. Which begs the question: what is the true story behind the love affair with these multi-book tales?
When the Harry Potter books broke upon the scene in the 1990s, they rejuvenated and reinvented the children’s book industry. J.K. Rowling was able to craft a story that was so engaging and intriguing that readers wanted to keep with Harry through all seven years of his battle with Voldemort. However, one unintended consequence of Rowling’s success was the advent of series books as the way to be a successful children’s/young adult author.
And the unfortunate consequence of this phenomenon has been that there are quite a few book series out there that never needed to be or never needed to be series. I am a fan of the Twilight books but will be the first to tell you that all of Meyer’s books are about 100 to 150 pages too long. Was it necessary to encapsulate the story in four separate books? (And yes, I will be attending the midnight showing of Breaking Dawn Part I regardless of my issues with the too-lengthy text and plot potholes.) Then there are all the series that have capitalized on the vampire bandwagon: Vampire Diaries, Blue Bloods, the House of Night series and the Morganville Vampires, to name a few. And while Lemony Snickett has done wonders for readers’ vocabulary, did we really need to read Count Olaf fail in 13 different ways? Writing about the same characters is comfortable and known and I understand the impulse to stick with what works. But I fear that some authors are churning out books to meet a contract requirement with a publisher or because (as many writers know) it’s too difficult to let a character go.
But perhaps there is hope if one considers this a detrimental trend. Within the series slaves has emerged a new breed of author. Authors who really have a story to tell that is so engrossing it must be told in multiple books. This new series author provides a continuing story but not necessarily with the same protagonist throughout her books. Carrie Ryan, Kristin Cashore, and Cassandra Clare are doing some amazing things by linking their created universes rather than following a specific character. These companion novels provide readers with a familiar setting but an original story with new or related characters. I realize these authors are not the first to do this , but in an period of YA books where quantity seems to be more important that quality sometimes, it’s nice to know that there are still thoughtful authors out there continuing to create new ways to get their stories told without relying on one character or one blueprint to do the telling. Don’t get me wrong, anything that gets kids reading is a win in my book. There just needs to be somewhere for more discerning readers to go when the patterns of plot and familiarity of a character get a little too predictable.