Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Questions for the author: Michael Northrop, author of 'Trapped'



Recently, I wrote a review of the book Trapped. In my own humble opinion, it is a really awesome book. Nonetheless, as the demanding reader I am, I wanted some more information about the end of the book. I e-mailed Michael Northrop, the author, and he responded with great comments.

Why is the ending was so abrupt? Could it have benefited from another chapter?

Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed my book and I appreciate you taking the time to write me. Ah, yes: the ending. Some people really like it (really, I swear) and some people, well, not so much! You are definitely not the only person to have that question. In case you think I’m just crazy, though, I do have some specific reasons for ending the book the way I did.

To me, Trapped is the story of a group of people trapped by a natural disaster. Specifically, it is a young adult novel about seven teens, and the focus is extremely tight, almost like a play. Once the outside world comes in, I feel like that story is over. The helicopter turns around, radios in their location, and is headed back to the high school to rescue them. It’s a hopeful and pivotal point—like the moment shipwreck survivors are finally spotted by a passing boat—and the next step is fairly clear. But at that point, the scope of the story would expand tremendously and become much more about a new cast of adults (either doing the rescuing or being rescued).

For example, I always felt that Scotty’s mom would make it, being right in town and in a tall, sturdy house. But the chances are clearly not as good for Jason’s dad and Krista’s mom. And if we mention them, what about the parents who aren’t discussed specifically? I think it’s also pretty clear that Gossell doesn’t make it—and Scotty alludes to that, calling the idea a fairy tale—but then what about the shop teacher and assistant principal and others who are mentioned in the book? What about all the kids on the buses? Very quickly, a story about a small group of teens becomes a long inventory of survivors and victims. I understand the appeal of that, but it is a very different sort of story.

I also feel like we’ve been through enough big disasters to know that they don’t wrap up neatly in the allotted time. In very real ways, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is still going on. The same goes for 9/11, obviously. The consequences of these things are complicated, interconnected, and ongoing, and I didn’t want to wrap this one up with a bow on top.

And finally (this is practically another chapter already!), I like to leave readers with something to think about—even if it’s just what a jerk I am! It definitely wasn’t my intention to leave anyone frustrated. I’d rather have you, as a reader who now knows the characters and the situation, feel empowered to make up your own mind. That could be about what you think happened to specific characters or about my decision to end the story there, and all the different ways a story can be told. As a member of the Vine program, I'm sure you see a lot of them!

Anyway, I hope that sheds a little light on things.

What other books are you working on?
Thanks for asking what's next for me: I have a novel for younger kids called Plunked coming out next spring. It's about a Little League player who gets hit in the head (well, helmet) by a pitch and loses his nerve at the plate. His whole life is centered around baseball, so he really has to fight hard to overcome his fear and get back in there. (And I can tell you that book does end with the big game.)

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