“ . . . and they lived happily ever after. ”
As a child you likely heard this ending, or some variation, in just about every book on your shelf. But as you got older, the endings grew more complex and ambiguous, and trying to guess the author’s eventual resolution became part of the fun. Cliffhanger endings are by default pretty wrenching, but even stories with resolutions can be satisfying. And although not every book has an amazing final page, there are some books with endings you’ll never forget.
In these books, the endings not only complete their narrative but also add an emotional punch. They let you explore others’ perspectives, imagine the outcomes to insurmountable problems, or even just sit in stunned silence for a little while.
But there is a downside. Books with powerful, give me more conclusions can ruin other books for you. As soon as you read something with a less-than-stellar ending, you’ll want to toss it out the window a la Silver Lining Playbook. And since these sort of books are also few and far between, you’re bound to do a lot of book tossing. To help minimize your literary damage, here are 15 books with unforgettable endings. Some are expected. Some will blindside you. But all of these stories’ endings will stay with you long after you finish the final page.
1'The Fault In Our Stars' by John Green
I mistakenly listened to the audio version of The Fault In Our Stars as I did some chores around the house, and ended up having to clean my tears off the floor. Even if you’ve already seen the movie, John Green’s ability to make such a difficult subject matter irreverent and attention-grabbing is well worth the read (or listen.)
2'Gone Girl' by Gillian Flynn
This book has an ending that leaves you confused and unsettled, and I mean that in the best way. Much has been said about Gone Girl and its tricky characters, and I’d invite anyone who’s still curious to give the book a go. Just maybe don’t read it expecting to find a new role model.
3'Their Eyes Were Watching God' by Zora Neale Hurston
Their Eyes Were Watching God follows Janie Crawford, an African-American woman who copes with difficult men, town gossips, and even a hurricane in early 20th century Florida. After all the story’s events, the ending just leaves you breathless.
4'Flowers For Algernon' by Daniel Keyes
I first read Flowers For Algernon in middle school, and I still haven’t recovered. Despite being written in the '70s, many of the book’s themes — intelligence, treatment of people with mental disabilities, and downfalls of scientific testing — still resonate years later. The ending is equal parts devastating and poignant.
5'I Am Legend' by Richard Matheson
As with many book-to-movie creations, Will Smith’s 2007 version completely changed the ending of I Am Legend. Matheson’s original vision is so much darker and weirder than the on-screen version, and well worth your time if you’re into the whole dystopian future thing.
6'The Thirteenth Tale' by Diane Setterfield
Following the interactions of its two heroines — an author and an amateur biographer — this suspenseful story takes on themes of hidden pasts, ghosts, and secrets. By the time you reach the ending, you’ll want to flip the book over and start reading again.
7'The Handmaid’s Tale' by Margaret Atwood
In a world where birth rates are plummeting and women’s bodies are controlled by the government, Atwood’s characters in The Handmaid's Tale chafe against their societal norms with biting wit and determination. The entire dystopian novel is gripping, but the ending is surprisingly hopeful.
8'The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd' by Agatha Christie
Written in 1927, readers are still up in arms over The Murder of Roger Ackroyd's shocking ending. Christie is the high priestess of mystery novels for a reason. If you even suspect that the butler did it, this one will leave you breathless.
9'The Nightingale' by Kristin Hannah
This historical novel, which follows two sisters through WWII France, packs a heavy emotional punch. The Nightingale is gripping from the beginning through to the unforgettable end.
10'The House Of The Spirits' by Isabel Allende
Chronicling generations of the Trueba family’s life in Chile, The House Of The Spirits blends history with magical realism to leave the reader spellbound. The ending will resonate with you long after you’ve finished the story.
11'My Sister’s Keeper' by Jodi Picoult
My Sister's Keeper takes on the controversial topic of genetic planning, as well as complex family dynamics and the murkiness of morality. And the ending just might make you ugly-cry in public, so be careful.
12'11/22/63' by Stephen King
You may look at this one and think, “It’s a novel about the JFK assassination — I know how that ends.” But the ending to 11/22/63 l is more amorphous and bizarre than you might imagine.
13'Watership Down' by Richard Adams
Yes, it features talking rabbits, but Watership Down is not a book to be taken lightly. You’ll fall in love with Hazel, his friends, and their imaginative language. Once you hit the end cover, you’ll wish there were about a million more of these books to follow.
14'The Coffin Dancer' by Jeffery Deaver
In The Coffin Dancer, a sharp-witted quadriplegic detective tracks down a professional assassin. With such a unique set-up, could the ending be anything but unexpected?
15'Shutter Island' by Dennis Lehane
Shutter Island, a psychological crime novel that includes the disappearance of a criminally insane patient, human testing, and a hurricane, is gripping from the start. And if you’re brave enough to hang in there, the ending will totally stun you.
Images: Martin /Flickr