Not such a bleak ending, says Kevin Brooks

Author Kevin Brooks, winner of the 2014 Carnegie Award for Children’s Fiction, appealed for publishers not to put too much emphasis on happy endings and in doing so stirred up huge controversy.Kevin Brooks

According to The Times newspaper, Brooks said in his acceptance speech: “This school of thought – that no matter how dark or difficult a novel is, it should contain at least an element of hope – is still fairly widespread and ingrained in the world of ‘young adult’ books… I just don’t agree with it.” Teenagers, he added, “understand things” and should not be “cosseted with artificial hope”. Brooks, whose winning book The Bunker Diary is published by Puffin [part of Penguin] is said by The Times to have had countless discussions with his editor at Puffin as he fought to retain his dark ending.

To me there are a number of issues. One is about modern society being over-protective of young adults. Second, it is about publishers not trusting authors. I haven’t read the book. Perhaps part of the issue is that the Carnegie Prize for Fiction is for children’s books and YA fiction is just that, for young adults. Perhaps YA is too grown-up for the Carnegie. YA is by definition for older teenagers. I tried to find the definitive age range for each of the sub-genres, but failed. Approximately it seems YA can be for 12-18 or 16-25 year-olds, Teen Fiction 10-15 and Children 0-12. Perhaps this muddiness is part of the problem? In the UK, a 16-year old can marry with parental consent, or 18 without, and at 18 gets the vote and can drink alcohol.

If you’ve read, or your teenagers have read, The Bunker Diary, please let me know what they [and you] think.

To read an article in The Telegraph newspaper arguing that the book is an unsuitable winner of such a prestigious prize, click here.
For previous winners of the UK’s Carnegie Award for Children’s Fiction, click here.
Click here to read Penguin’s reply to the accusations, in an article from The Bookseller magazine.
Click here to read an interview with Brooks in The Guardian about how he writes. Kevin Brooks

‘The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks’ [UK: Penguin] Buy now

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Not such a bleak ending: an appeal from THE BUNKER DIARY author Kevin Brooks #amwriting via @SandraDanby


  1. Good for Kevin Brooks for going with his gut. This controversy will generate readers, some of those readers will be people who are touched by the story, and someone may try to do something positive based on what they learned from Brooks’ novel. Seems like an award winning book to me.

  2. I agree with Mr. Brooks, and your comments as well. My writing is for adults, but I’ve still been told by well-meaning readers that I should have cheerier endings. But that’s not what life is. If people want cheery endings, they can read typical rom-com novels. Nothing wrong with that. But not everyone should feel pressured to write that way. Now I’ll be sure to check out Mr. Brooks’s novel.

  3. I haven’t read the book, but both “issues” make for great debate. I trust authors to write the endings they want to write as a general rule. Do I want my 9 year old to read nothing but darkness? Of course not. Do I trust my 13 year old to sift through layers and understand that not all endings are happy ones? Yes, I do. Ambiguity is a gift books provide.
    The children’s/teen/YA thing is much harder. I shied away from YA for years based on its label but I discovered great books in that category. Likewise there are great adult books appropriate to the YA age bracket. And what about teen boys? I gotta tell you — there aren’t a lot of great titles out there that aren’t all romance or horror/fantasy? These are going to be some interesting years.

    • I haven’t read the book and I don’t have children, so I am really unqualified to comment except as a reader. When I was a teen I was reading ‘Animal Farm’ and Agatha Christie and my father’s Len Deighton, No happy endings there. SD

  4. Something I never really thought of. Though I write bleak endings in some of my work, I´m not even sure a lot of adults like them, let alone children. I know I always preferred happy endings when I was young. It probably has something to do with upbringing. I suspect children with happy childhoods find bleak endings more easy to handle than those brought up in unhappy households.

    But it’s certainly something I would not want publishers to decide. If they want to dictate happy endings they should become writers.

    Too many are accountants, rather than publishers these days. I suspect many of them think a happy ending is either a large wedge of cash or something to do with a massage parlour.

    • Thx for commenting Bryan. We do seem as a society to be searching for an easy ‘happy ever after’ but life is not like that. As to publishers dictating to authors, I guess that’s been going on for a while now and it will continue if writers don’t stand by the book they wrote. SD

  5. Hi Sandra,

    I can’t help but agree with Kevin. I have been involved with teen mentoring for a few years, through The Smith Family’s iTrack program for disadvantaged Year 10 students in Australia. Almost without exception, these kids can see through vain hope and feel-good stories.

    They like to be able to identify with the characters, be it book, film or television programme, and have a keen appreciation of balance in their lives. Perhaps more than adults do, since we seem to think we have more control 🙂

    I am now very interested to read The Bunker Diary! Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

  6. I like miserable endings. They make a book much harder. The good people don’t always survive and life is not a basket of roses. Cinderella doesn’t always marry Prince Charming.

    The idea of teen/YA fiction is quite fascinating. It was either Enid Blyton or Agatha Christie, Leslie Charteris, Dennis Wheatley when I was young. Nothing in the middle. So why is there a need now? Clever marketing? Or teenagers incapable of reading adult fiction?

    I haven’t read it.