Abbi Glines’s Until the End and the Joy of Genre
Trisha was a mother even before she had any kids. She had no choice, really. She had to grow up fast so she could protect her brother from their abusive mother and the procession of perverted boyfriends that went through their too-small home.
Rock Taylor was the Big Man on Campus, destined to accomplish big things in college football. He sees Trisha in the schoolyard one morning and it’s love at first sight…for him, at least.
The course of true love never does run smooth, of course, and Trisha has too many problems at home to even think about spending that valuable time and attention with Rock. Even though her heart rate increases every time Rock is around…
Through the course of Until the End, Rock and Trisha engage in the good, old-fashioned bob-and-weave that characterizes all just about every romance ever. Abbi Glines unashamedly gives her readers what she wants: two attractive people who overcome internal and external struggles to make a connection in this crazy, sometimes depressing world. Let us not forget another thing that her readers want: tastefully described R-rated sex between the protagonists.
Until the End is not the kind of book I usually read…and that’s why I picked it up. Ms. Glines is not trying for a Man Booker Prize with this novel and I don’t believe many MFA students will read and analyze Rock and Trisha’s story. All of that is fine. In fact, it’s a stroke in the book’s favor that it doesn’t pretend to be something that it isn’t. Ms. Glines puts her audience and herself first. Some books and writers deliberately attempt to confuse or bore the reader. Ms. Glines did precisely what she set out to do: to tell a romantic story about a slightly bad boy who falls in love with and protects a good girl who needs an awful lot of love and understanding.
The writing community is not a monolith; everyone is a little bit different, just as our books represent a unique piece of our selves. And yet, books are classified, just as people are separated into groups, for better or worse. Some of these groups are seen as “lesser” in some ways and at some times. Some critics see the category of Young Adult as less “literary” than others. The perception has changed in recent years, but it’s still there to some extent. Some critics don’t think that pulp mystery novels can be “good.” You’re never going to find The Notebook on the shortlist of major literary awards, but the book has jerked countless tears from millions of readers.
Existential question time:
What’s the difference between “literary” and “good?” What’s the balance between “entertaining” and “intellectual?” To what extent should a book appeal to a wide audience over a small, discriminating one?
Unfortunately, there are no right answers to these questions. There will always be some overlap between genre and mainstream (The Martian!) and literary and mainstream (Lonesome Dove!) and Young Adult and mainstream (Harry Potter!), but a YA/romance novel will generally be set apart because of what it is and was meant to be.
This sad inevitability does not (and should not) disqualify us from learning what we can from such a book. Until the End is a fun, sad and quick read. The characters are relatable and solve big problems for themselves and each other. There’s a happy ending. And there’s a little…something something in the book, if you know what I mean. And I think you do. Ms. Glines wrote the book she set out to write, which is what every author endeavors to do.
Another facet of the book that I admired was that the young men in the book actually sounded like teen guys. Okay, do all teen guys think or speak alike? No. Must all teen guys play high school football, as Ms. Glines’s protagonist does? Of course not.
But if you hang out at a mall and walk past a group of young guys, this is the kind of thing you will probably hear:
Ms. Glines allows her characters to say and think unpleasant things, which means she is telling the truth. Verisimilitude is the appearance of reality in fiction; the reader is more likely to believe the story because Ms. Glines depicts a world that we recognize. These are the kinds of things many guys say to each other. I was never like Rock and his friends in high school or college or now, but that’s how many young men think about dating and romance. Most importantly, telling the truth benefits Ms. Glines because allowing Rock to be honest at the beginning of the story helps the reader believe he is honest at the end of the story, when he has gone through the requisite changes mandated by the plot.
Okay, let’s keep it real. Look at the cover art for the book. We know what is going to happen in this book. It is not a mystery that Tricia and Rock are going to make the beast with two backs at some point. Ms. Glines maintains other kinds of suspense instead and makes wise choices to amplify the reader’s desire to find out what happens. First, she doesn’t play coy with us when it comes to the resolution of the love story. The first chapter makes it clear that Rock and Trisha end up married and happy. The reader subconsciously turns his or her attention to how the lovers come to be a pair, which is the story the book unspools.
Ms. Glines also ensures that there is an undercurrent of sex flowing through the book, even though it is not consummated for quite some time. Rock and Trisha have a great number of sexual thoughts about each other, though they are not the narrative’s primary concern. I don’t want to spoil every single plot point, so I’ll say that Rock has occasion to come in chaste contact with Trisha’s body on at least one occasion. This contact maintains the sexual tension.
Writing a novel is like running a marathon, only with your fingers instead of legs. It’s very difficult to know what you will end up with when you start out, but we can all aspire to do what Ms. Glines has done: she wrote a book that fulfilled the goals she had for herself and for the readers who snap it up.