Saturday, May 14, 2011

Trilogies and Quartets Galore!

Sometimes a good story can’t be condensed into one book. Or even two books. In many instances, it takes three (!) or even four (!!) books to tell a riveting tale. Given the recent proliferation and popularity of such trilogies and quartets as The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins), The Mortal Instruments (Cassandra Clare), The Inheritance Cycle (Christopher Paolini), and Chaos Walking (Patrick Ness), it seems only fair to ask: why does this storytelling format appeal to young readers?

From a marketing standpoint, it’s pretty lucrative for publishers and authors to space out an epic storyline. Marketing aside, it’s a daunting task to try and promote a 700+ page book to children and young adults (especially reluctant readers). However, if an epic tale is broken up across several books, the story gains unbelievable momentum. Also, we see readers become invested in characters’ plights (Team Peeta, anyone?), engaging in heated discussions with friends over story arcs, and creating Facebook fan pages for their favorite literary figures. Here are some of my favorite children’s and YA trilogies and quartets:

Gemma Doyle Trilogy by Libba Bray (A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing)

The Gemma Doyle books were my go-to reads for teens that plowed through the Twilight Saga and wanted to kick it up a notch. Containing gothic mystery, lush descriptions of colonial India and prim-and-proper Victorian England, boarding school adventures, forbidden romance, and spine-chilling horror, this trilogy has it all without being too overwhelming for its readers. My only (very minor) qualm is with the cover art of the books--they resemble grocery store bodice rippers, and are not super appealing to a teen audience. I love these books so much, that when I encountered Libba Bray at a conference a few years ago (was totally star-struck, BTW), I asked her (begged, really) if she would please consider writing a fourth book. She said it was unlikely, but she didn’t exactly say no…

Ruby Oliver Quartet by E. Lockhart (The Boyfriend List, The Boy Book, The Treasure Map of Boys, and Real Live Boyfriends)

I first encountered E. Lockhart’s brilliant writing in The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (co-ed boarding school + angst + pranks = win) and immediately combed my library’s YA collection for anything else written by her. I discovered that we had the first two Ruby Oliver books (the last two hadn’t been written yet), and found that the tone was much different from, but definitely just as amazing as DHFLB. Ruby Oliver, the teenage girl around whom the quartet is based, is relatable on so many levels—she struggles with her sense of personal identity, experiences heartbreak, and deals with mean girl drama. Ruby isn’t perfect, but readers find themselves rooting for her all the way to the end.

Melendy Family Quartet by Elizabeth Enright (The Saturdays, Four-Story Mistake, Then There Were Five, Spiderweb for Two: A Melendy Maze)

For those of us who love reading about bygone eras where people enjoy simple and charming activities that don’t involve overwrought technologies, Elizabeth Enright’s Melendy Family Quartet is the perfect nostalgic read. Set during the 1940s, the quartet revolves around the adventures of the four Melendy children who live with their widowed father in New York. These books are wonderful read-alouds that parents and children can enjoy together. Suggested read-alikes include Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy series and Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind Family series.