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"How It Ends" by Laura Wiess

"How It Ends" by Laura Wiess







How It Ends (MTV Books/Simon & Schuster; $14)  is the latest novel from Laura Wiess, author of Such a Pretty Girl and Leftovers. Although it is marketed as a YA [young adult] novel, How It Ends is a dark-edged, compelling portrait of love’s power over evil, and adult readers are likely to relate to it on a wholly different level than younger readers will.

Mothers and their high school-age daughters may particularly be drawn to share reading the story of teenage Hanna and her relationship with Helen, an elderly neighbor who has become Hanna’s adopted grandmother. By story’s end, long-held secrets are revealed and illusions are shattered as Hanna moves into adulthood.

Laura Wiess

Here is Laura Wiess, answering questions about How It Ends.

Q&A for Laura Wiess, on How It Ends:

The first half of this book felt like a YA novel for teens, but in the second half, the parts with Louise’s memoir felt like a serious novel for adult readers. Were you ever tempted to change the concept of your book, so that the “novel-within-a-novel,” the audiobook How It Ends, would become your central story, aimed at an older readership?

Hi, Joyce! I’m so glad to be here.

I flirted briefly with the idea back in the beginning, while writing the audiobook and worrying if teen-age Hanna would ever be able to understand how different life had been back then, but then I realized that was exactly the point. Helen was worried that Hanna would not understand, so of course I was worried, too. These were secrets Helen had kept her whole life, and they could never be a casual reveal but if she wanted Hanna to know the truth and not be left with haunting, unanswered questions then exposing her past was a risk she had to take. And since the heart of the story is about the strength of the loving relationship between Hanna and Helen, an unofficial granddaughter and an unofficial grandmother, we needed to know both of them to really understand the Why? behind Helen’s initial decision to lie to Hanna, and then her later decision to confess.

So they had to be woven together, both voices, young and old, because they’re irreversibly intertwined, because they showed up together in my mind and gave each other so much. I needed to explore how grandmothers and granddaughters interact, coming together from different generations, armed with different opinions, experiences and focuses, sometimes clashing, sometimes impatient but also meeting on common ground, and despite their differences, giving each other love, comfort and care.   

Helen’s part of the story starts out seeming like a subplot to Hanna’s teenage self-absorption and romantic angst. But by the end of the book, Helen’s tale takes on great urgency and power. Did its emotional evolution surprise even you, as you were writing it?

In a way, yes, although I pretty much knew right from the start where we were headed and the intense emotions we would be mining to get there. I knew living inside of Helen was going to be rough – it had to be, to be true to her – and it definitely was.

The story’s momentum nearing the end was nerve-wracking, a relentless, no-mercy kind of internal storm there was no getting away from until I’d felt every scene and written every word. That surprised me, how fierce and raw peeling away all the options and facing the inevitable had left me.      

How important was it for you to show the arc of a relationship between characters of completely different generations?

It’s an integral part of the story’s foundation, along with the idea that no one is ever only what you think they are, and that we never really know the private heart of anyone unless it’s deliberately revealed.

There’s an organic rhythm to their relationship, a natural ebb and flow that shifts in accordance with Hanna’s blossoming and Helen’s withering. Hanna is pulling away from her family, making independent (and inexperienced) decisions and searching for her place in an unknown but thrilling new world. Her voice in the beginning of the book is young, excited, and self-absorbed, concerned more with navigating the bewildering maze of love, lust, school, and partying than boring old home life, and so of course it stands in stark contrast to Helen’s more settled, serious one. As Hanna grows and learns, though, her thoughts, actions and her voice matures.

Helen understands the necessity of Hanna’s pulling away (even while she mourns the loss), and is wise enough not to hold Hanna too tightly, or make her feel guilty for leaving her behind. Hanna then chooses to return to Helen because she wants to, not because she’s being forced into it.  She chooses to stay with Helen during a very difficult, heartbreaking time, and making that choice teaches her more about love, life, loss and the depth of her own strength and love for Helen than she ever could have imagined.

Parents often try to protect their children from pain and loss, to shield them from the realities of illness and death. Do you believe it is important for children to grow up understanding that tragedy is an unavoidable part of life?

Children are going to experience pain and loss whether they’re protected or not,  so how tragedy is handled within the family may be just as important, if not more so, than the tragedy itself. To what degree is it explained or exposed? What is the nature of the tragedy, how many questions are answered, and to what level of detailed truthfulness? What is the truth, and how is it handled?

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