There’s plenty of talk in the writing world about prologues—separate introductory sections that usually take place well before or well after a story begins. When prologues are done well, they can set the stage for a novel in a very compelling way…but some people list prologues among their literary pet peeves and caution that there had better be a really good reason for including one. We’ve even heard the advice that writers should omit a prologue if they’re querying agents and sending sample pages because it might be an immediate turnoff. Prologues evoke some strong opinions!
There’s not so much talk about epilogues, though. Perhaps that’s because epilogues are separate sections that come at the end of a book rather than at the beginning, and there tends to be more talk in writing circles about how novels begin, especially when writers are querying agents and sending first pages, and especially because beginnings get workshopped most frequently.
But let’s face it: writing a good ending is hard. And there are times when an epilogue can offer just the right kind of closure for a novel. That’s the case in the Middle Grade at Heart March book club pick: So Done, by Paula Chase.
So Done ends with an extremely effective epilogue. Well, two extremely effective epilogues, actually: one for each of the novel’s two point of view characters, Mila and Tai. Let’s look at why the So Done epilogues work so well!
So Done is the engrossing, powerful story of two girls—Metai and Jamila—who are about to begin eighth grade. Tai and Mila have been best friends for many years, but their connection is now unraveling and there is a whole lot of tension between them, in part because of a secret they are both keeping about something that happened to Mila at the end of seventh grade.
The end of So Done—the part just before the epilogues—is intense. We’ll try to keep this discussion spoiler-free, so we’ll just say that the whole novel is ramping up toward the full revelation of what happened to Mila several months ago. The scenes that reveal Jamila’s trauma are raw and painful—as they should be, because what happened to Mila is terrible, and it’s something that really does happen to girls her age.
Paula Chase goes there. She trusts that upper middle grade readers can handle the depiction of what Mila has gone through and how it impacts her, Tai, and others when that truth comes to light. The scenes at the end of the book are very emotional. They are honest. They do not pull punches. The last chapter before the epilogue finishes with a gut-wrenching image of one of the girls. It’s beautifully done…but it would be a bleak place to end a middle grade novel.
So instead of either ending there, Chase skips ahead a few months and gives us the two epilogues, one showing Mila in November and one showing Tai. Chase summarizes some of the consequences of the truth coming out and then takes readers to a place where the girls are beginning to heal. This works well for a few reasons.
First, a lot of what has happened between that last heartbreaking image and the epilogues centers around the adults involved in Mila’s trauma rather than on the girls themselves. This is the girls’ story, and we need to know about how those events impact the girls, but we don’t need to see those events unfold in detail.
Second, by moving ahead in time, Chase gives those heartbreaking last chapters space to linger. She doesn’t suggest that the girls could begin to heal quickly. This jump in time honors the seriousness of what has happened but also shows readers that the girls can ultimately get to a better place.
Third—and this is a really important one—the epilogues don’t wrap things up too neatly. Middle grade readers notice when books end in an unrealistically happy and tidy way. These epilogues offer plenty of hope, but they also make it clear that things are not magically better—there are things that are still extremely difficult, and there are people who are suffering very much (including the girls, some of the time).
In general, an epilogue can be an effective tool for bringing closure and hope to the end of a novel, especially one explores tough topics. Can you think of other middle grade novels with epilogues that work particularly well? Let us know some of your favorites!
Our newsletter about So Done will go out on Monday, March 18th, and be sure to mark your calendar for the #mgbookclub Twitter chat about the book! The chat will be a week earlier than usual this month, on Tuesday, March 26th at 8pm EST. We hope you can join us!