Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

5 Of The Worst Book Endings… Ever!

I’ve talked before about the importance of an opening line, but surely a book’s ending is just as – if not more! – crucial. It’s what the writer leaves the reader with, and what the reader will remember most clearly when they think back on the book later. Writers are well aware of the importance of getting it right: Hemingway famously re-wrote the final passage of A Farewell To Arms over forty times (and there are plenty of readers who say he still got it wrong).

I think a bad book ending feels like a betrayal, more so than other types of media. A movie with a bad ending, for instance, only feels like a waste of an hour or two. A book requires a much longer (and much more emotional) investment from the reader, so we demand some kind of pay-off. I’m not saying every book has to have a happy ending. I’m not even saying that every book needs “closure” in the final pages. What I’m saying is that the ending needs to feel satisfying, in some respect at least. If I’m suddenly chucked out of the story, if the ending is inconsistent or incomplete or overwrought or whatever the case may be, it’s going to sour my opinion of the whole book, even if it was brilliant up ’til then.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at five of the worst book endings ever – as voted by me, and some of my darling Keeper-Upperers over on Instagram.

5 Of The Worst Book Endings... Ever! - Text Below Black and White Image of Dead End Road Sign - Keeping Up With The Penguins

(Naturally, spoilers abound below, so proceed at your own risk…)

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Hunger Games was one of the very first books I read for the Keeping Up With The Penguins Project. On the whole, I didn’t mind it, but I got the distinct impression that it was written initially as a stand-alone. It wasn’t until the final couple of pages that Collins opened up a door to a second book, and all I could think was: “Clearly, an editor has forced her to do this, because they know there’s money to be made in a successful dystopian YA series”. The story of this first installment had a really natural arc that that flowed to a conclusion, and then BAM: more story to come! Ugh. Most fans of the book don’t seem to take issue with it, though; I might be the only one who noticed. Other Hunger Games readers seem to focus their rage on the end of the series as a whole (and, in fairness, they’re probably right to do so – it was pretty crap). Read my full review here.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Me Before You - Jojo Moyes - Book Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

(As suggested by @syarahsyazanaghazali)

It would seem there are about a million reasons to hate the ending of Me Before You: it’s too sad, it’s too corny, and so on and so forth. Personally, I took issue with the ableist overtones, through the book as a whole and the ending in particular. Moyes seemed to imply that there’s no way life as a wheelchair-user could be worthwhile – even when you have all of the privilege of wealth, and happy relationships. Being, as I am, a person who doesn’t live with a disability, it’s probably not my place to deconstruct the ways in which that is problematic, but I feel comfortable saying that it just didn’t sit right with me. This book is definitely polarising – a lot of people really love it, and a lot of people really dislike it, not a lot of in-between – but I think that we can all agree that the ending was, to put it mildly, terrible in multiple ways.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All The Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr - Book Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

All The Light We Cannot See won a Pulitzer prize, and it’s still selling in huge numbers across the world, even years after its release. So, I might be the only one who thinks this, but I’ve just gotta say it: I think the ending was pretty average. It’s a really sprawling epic story of two kids whose lives weave together over the course of WWII, and then… they just kind of find each other? Very briefly? And one of them dies? And then the other one meets the dead one’s sister later? And then she lives happily ever after? I’m including all of these question marks because I feel like it becomes increasingly mystifying, and it’s delivered in rapid-fire (unlike the story that preceded it, which was fairly evenly paced). Maybe it’s not the worst book ending of all time or anything, but it’s definitely one of those that springs to mind when asked. Read my full review here.

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

My Sister's Keeper - Jodi Picoult - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

(As suggested by @i_left_my_heart_in_sf)

Hoo-boy! Jodi Picoult sure did set the cat among the pigeons with My Sister’s Keeper. In fact, you can’t google her name or the book’s title without at least one or two angry rants about the book’s ending (and the movie‘s ending!) cropping up in the top results. I saw one reviewer say she was so upset by it she wanted to through Picoult in the sewer. Another blamed Picoult for her trust issues. It’s a fraught and emotional story as it is – about a young girl’s fight to control her own body, and not farm her organs out to her ill sister – so the stakes for a satisfying ending are higher than they would be otherwise. I’m afraid to say that Picoult is almost universally considered to have failed that test, and this is unquestionably one of the worst book endings ever.

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - JK Rowling - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Look, J.K. is our Queen. I’m not coming after her. The Harry Potter series is probably a big reason that a lot of us are here and reading right now. All hail, etc. But I’m just going to say it: the epilogue at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is hands down one of the worst book endings ever. I struggle to think of an ending that confused, saddened, and disgusted me more than that one. If you’re reading Harry Potter for the first time – and I highly recommend that you do! – just stop when you get to the end of the last proper chapter in this book. If you read any further, you’ll find a really naff, super-corny ending where everyone has grown up and married their high-school sweethearts and had a bunch of kids that they named after the people who died. Vomit! It stitches the story together in the most hopelessly saccharine way, which does the whole series a huge disservice. I think it’s even worse for the reader given the emotional gut-punch of Harry’s death, and re-birth, in the chapters that preceded it, not to mention his trashing of the Elder Wand… I think Deathly Hallows would have been a perfect and fitting end for the series, if not for that stinkin’ epilogue. Grrr!

What do you think? Share your worst book endings ever in the comments below (or tell us all about your disappointments over at Keeping Up With The Penguins on Facebook!).

17 Comments

  1. Great topic! I mean, I wish these terrible endings were not out there, but it’s fun to complain about them. Just having read Dracula, I have to add that to the list — it has the most boring and pointless chase scene ever (the pursuers know where their target is going, and are more mobile since he’s STUCK IN A COFFIN, so why do they not just head him off??). Not to mention the final event. I won’t discuss it to avoid spoilers, but just — Holy anticlimax. I was seriously underimpressed.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      November 24, 2019 at 7:44 AM

      Bahahahahahaha yes! There’s such a HUGE BUILD UP, but I kept thinking “if they’d just spent a little less time writing all these letters and diaries and a little more time getting on with it, this whole thing would’ve been sorted way sooner” πŸ˜…πŸ˜…

    • That chase was one of the elements of the novel that irritated me enormously. It was just ridiculous though not as ridiculous as Van Halen’s speech pattern !

  2. Alyson Woodhouse

    November 23, 2019 at 4:09 AM

    I hated that epilogue of the Deathly Hallows. It was just wrong on so many levels, and felt far too sweet to be altogether wholesome. I haven’t read Me before You, but as someone with a disability, I think it would make me feel quite uneasy. I might actually read it out of curiosity, as I am generally very interested in the way disability is portrayed in literature.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      November 24, 2019 at 7:46 AM

      Oooh, I’d love to hear what you think Alyson – I know a lot of people LOVE that book, and I don’t want to denigrate them or their choices of course, but it just didn’t sit right with me personally, you know?

  3. Great post Sheree. I’ve definitely read some books with terrible endings where I’ve just wanted to throw the book across the room. But I can’t actually think of any right now.

  4. Yes a thousand times to My Sister’s Keeper. It was the first and ultimately last Picoult I read after that ending πŸ™ˆ. Then the movie just made it even worse!

    • ShereeKUWTP

      November 24, 2019 at 3:18 PM

      πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚ you are definitely not alone there – I’ve not come across a single reader who liked it!!

  5. Yeah, well said! Authors spend such a lot of time perfecting their beginnings to keep readers involved, but may sometimes forget that the endings need equal care, as the parts we most closely take away with us.

    That ending of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows actually becomes the beginning of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child πŸ™‚ It’s repeated almost verbatim. I wonder if fans think it’s any better at the start than the end.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      November 27, 2019 at 2:14 PM

      Ughhhhhh that’s enough to put me off the Cursed Child (I’d always avoided it “just in case” it ruined the general Harry Potter magic/nostalgia anyway).

  6. Actually I had fallen out of love with Rowling by that book, the first book was intriguing and seemed to have a great deal of optimism. But as time went on the books got darker and darker and there seemed less of a way out.
    If I wanted to read about real life I’d buy a newspaper…

  7. Within the last few chapters of Dark Places by Gillian Flynn, the same author who wrote Gone Girl I definitely have the same opinion. The story centers around a young women whose family was murdered when she was young, and her older brother is in jail for the murders. The young women hasn’t spoken with him or anyone surrounding the murders for the past 25 years, and in the end she finds out that it was a man her mother wanted to kill her so the family could keep the life insurance. The quasi-girlfriend of the older brother killed one of the sisters and the man who killed the mother has to kill the other sister. I didn’t like the ending and I don’t know yet if I will read Gone girl. I may, just to see if this is how Flynn ends books

    • ShereeKUWTP

      November 30, 2019 at 3:07 PM

      Oooft, sounds like a bit of a mess! I’ll be reviewing Gone Girl at some point (stay tuned!), not sure I’ll be giving Dark Places a go… πŸ˜…

  8. Oh, I hate the epilogue in Harry Potter. I refuse to read it whenever I reread the series.

    Worse book ending ever goes to Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy. Wat worse than Me Before You. I am still traumatized by that one. Just writing this is making me want to cry. If you haven’t read it, don’t. Just read a summary. But read all his other books, he’s seriously an amazing author.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      November 30, 2019 at 3:06 PM

      They should release a special edition of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows with the epilogue omitted πŸ˜… And will certainly take your tip re: Hardy – I’ve got Tess Of The D’Urbervilles waiting for me on my shelf!

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