Tell Me How It Ends: SPOILER WARNING
Let me tell you the two most common questions I’ve heard in the three weeks since Fierce Kingdom was released: 1) What’s the deal with the movie? 2) What happens at the end of the story?
So here goes: First of all, as for the movie, it is not an actual thing yet. There have been movie rights sold, and there’s a screenplay in process, but that does not equate to a real, buy-your-tickets movie. There are lots of steps still to go in the process. We’ll see.
But about the ending. Endings are, of course, hard to talk about in a public way. Spoilers and all. But it’s been really interesting to me that what was an intentionally open-ended, multi-layered ending has driven some people crazy. It’s a matter of perspective, I guess. As a reader, it drives ME crazy when writers overstate their themes and act as if I’m not smart enough to make my own conclusions…to fill in the gaps myself. I do assume that a reader is smart and thoughtful, and I’ve always loved the idea that the reader comes to a book and joins with the author, and between the two of them, they make this new thing. The book is different for every reader. (For all you English majors out there, it’s reader response theory in action.)
So I like that the reader can decide for themselves what happens. There are two (I think ) different ways you can read the ending of Fierce Kingdom. Joan either _______ or ___________ . (I’m not sure if my code is too obvious there or not.) In ways I didn’t intend, I think the ending has turned out as a litmus test for how people view the world. My husband read the first draft of the book and stalked into the room saying, “I can’t believe you_________!” And I said, “I didn’t!”
I might say that he’s a pessimist and I’m an optimist, and that’s the difference in the way we see the ending. I like that he can have a different ending than I did. That you can have a different ending than I did. So that’s one reason for the content of the last few pages. The other is that, in as much as the book is about parenting, the truth is that–in the best of circumstances–you leave your child behind. You go and they stay. So the ending can’t be all smiley faces and rainbows. That’s not life.
And another thing about life: we don’t get everything tied up neatly. We don’t KNOW how our actions effect everyone down the line. Joan can’t know the end result for everyone at the end of the night.
But, for what it’s worth, I always veer towards light instead of dark. Good does not always triumph in real life, but if this is my story, I want good to conquer.
Just finished the book, and this is the email I sent to all my friends:
Subject: Fierce Kingdom
By Gin Phillips
Omg! Omg! Omg!
I could not read this fast enough.
My eyes skimmed down the middle of each page barely glancing at the words to the left and right. I had to read faster and faster.
All the time wondering What would I do if I had been Joan?
The trash can……
The ending!!!!! SO much to talk about!!
Thanks,Betty! So glad you got caught up in it.
Absolutely loved loved loved it. My son is eleven.
Thanks, Elizabeth. I always especially appreciate it when other mothers feel like the book captures something they can relate to.
I am in a stupor. Just finished Fierce Kingdom. What can I say-it was amazing! Wow! Still in the zoo with Joan but slowly facing reality. I hope you win some writing prize for the book because you deserve it.
Thanks for the kind words,Renie!
This was absolutely riveting. As a mom of three I could relate to Joan and felt every moment of her panic and need to protect Lincoln. I have to believe she is saved… that there is a small bit of light in all this darkness. Well done! Congrats.
Thanks, Jennifer. For what it’s worth, I also like to see the ending optimistically. I believe in light in the middle of the darkness.
I loved the book and the ending. Yet the ending still caused me to search what other readers thought. Glad I stumbled onto your site…great answer! Thanks for an intense, page-turning read; even if I am lacking some serious sleep now.
Thanks, Tiffany–so glad you enjoyed the book! A lack of sleep is always a huge compliment.
This is the first novel in a very long time that I’ve read cover to cover in one sitting. Beautifully written, timely subject matter (again, unfortunately) and I sincerely appreciate how you left the ending open to interpretation. I also really enjoyed how you introduced Robby. Thank you for a great read.
What a lovely note! Thank you so much!
What an incredible book. I sometimes joke to my husband that I hope one day Terry Gross will interview me about my mom-ing, so someone will finally appreciate the knowledge, expertise and genius I’ve accumulated in mothering my kids. I love how this book recognizes and affirms the value of all that mothering — knowing your kid, thinking through all the possible scenarios of how they’ll react to something and minutely adjusting your actions to account for those scenarios, anticipating what they’ll need and when. Although the subject matter of the book is unspeakable, I love how its central tenet seems to be that one day, all that work you’ve put into knowing your kid might just save their life.
So glad you enjoyed it. And, like you, I don’t think of it as a book about a shooting. I think of it as a book about motherhood.
I did not want to finish this book; it made me tense. However, it is a testament to your writing that I couldn’t put it down. Like others, I had questions at the end, especially about the baby in the trash can. I am bothered because I think Joan did the right thing by leaving her there. I am certain that I would have taken her with me thereby endangering Lincoln and the baby.d Oh, the guilt!!
Thanks for writing, Diane. And, yes, I think the guilt about the trashcan baby would be overwhelming if I were in that situation…and I think Joan does feel tremendous guilt. She makes that decision very quickly and, I think, second guesses it plenty. I choose to believe the baby was found unharmed, and, if that’s so, her choice would seem to have been the right one.
My son is almost two, and I feel like I could relate to almost every single page of the book. It just feels so real. Although I’ve had the book for months, I finally decided to pull it out of my stack of unread books yesterday, after taking my son to the Birmingham Zoo for the first time (I’ll definitely never experience their primate exhibit the same way). Although I choose to view the ending optimistically, I can’t help but play out both endings in my head simultaneously, and either way there’s a sense of both hope and heartbreak. Thank you for capturing motherhood so brilliantly, and for putting on paper the type of thoughts I never realized other mothers (and other people) had too.
Thanks for such a kind, thoughtful note, Kaitlin. (And sorry for the delay in responding.) I, too, like to see the ending optimistically…but I also think that motherhood itself is bound to have both hope/joy and heartbreak. Hopefully more hope and joy. And I always love hearing from other mothers that the book captures something they feel with their own kids. Thanks again for taking the time to write!
This was a great read. I couldn’t have stopped reading until I was done if I had tried. I have a 4 yr old and I couldn’t stop thinking what my son would have done, said, reacted. I love how fierce Joan is. Regardless of the situation, Moms will do anything they have to for their babies!
Thanks so much, Laura. I always especially like hearing moms’ reactions to Joan and Lincoln. My son was four when I wrote the book, and I do love that his four-year-old self is preserved there…he’s a very different boy (in some ways) at six.
What an amazing and terrifying book. I could barely put it down. My children are 2 and 4 and the part at the end, when Joan craves the weight of Lincoln, that’s how I felt reading it and thinking about being in that situation. All I wanted to do is hug them at just the thought of this happening. When I read the description I thought this would be an action book but its so much more real than that and so much better for it. This isn’t an adrenaline pumping book with scenes for she sake of shock and awe. Its a very realistic portrayal of a truly terrifying situation that is too common. And my heart breaks for all the people who have gone through this. This book is going to stay with me for a long time. Well done and than you for writing it.
Thanks so much, Lauren! I’m always especially glad when a mother reads it and feels like it rings true. For me, the action part was always secondary to the exploration of motherhood. So glad it stuck with you!
The book was riveting and I felt like I was there as Joan or with her at every tense turn. You totally captured her thought process and decisions. Kailynn was an important part of the story, especially at the end. I am so glad I found this link. While I appreciate the literary option of either ending, I am happy you look at an optimistic ending for both Joan and the baby. I would be heartbroken if she did not make it. Thank you.
I read this book and will be posting my review on my website soon, but I love this!
I totally understand the readers response theory here. It is completely up to us and our unconscious to decide if she did or if she didn’t. I guess that from the beginning of the novel she was up to give everything up for the sake of her child, so I will say that might be she almost did at the end… but didn’t… because I still want to believe that regardless of what she went through it was not worthless, but it is not worthless since she save the kid which was her main objective.
Great post and great book!
Inkish Kingdoms Editor
Best book I’ve read in a few years. As a parent, your narration of some of the little interactions you inevitably have with your kid(s) is pretty spot-on. Loved it. The ending frustrated me slightly, but it makes total sense why and how it ends the way it does. Looking forward to reading your other books. Well done! (well after the fact).
Thanks so much, Erik! I thought of the book as primarily a book about motherhood/parenthood, so it’s those moments between Joan and Lincoln that I most want to resonate. I’m glad they felt real to you. 🙂
I can’t tell you how much this book was in my head. These were all my thoughts and conversations with my 40 pound boy who has his stories and questions… I could put myself and him in every page and couldn’t put the book down because of that. I had relieved/exhausted tears at at end.
And I loved the twist pov shooter reveal, I went back and reread that, so cleverly written! My question is mostly regarding the shooters “final plan”… it seemed as if that was going to lead to a plot twist. I felt like they led us to believe it was to be some sort of suicide pact but it seemed purposely vague so I was expecting a red herring with something more unusual planned. I just finished I this moment, so maybe I need to go back and review text for clues?
Thanks so much for the kind words about Fierce Kingdom, Emily! One reason I feel so attached to it is because I wrote it when my son was four, so Lincoln in some ways captures that particular age for me in a snow globe. (Granted, there are shooters and a life-or-death situation, but it’s much less stressful when you’re writing the story and know how it ends. :))
As for the “final plan,” the real twist to their plan is that they’ve constructed the whole thing to confuse the police…to make law enforcement treat their attack as a hostage situation, therefore buying the shooters time to hunt for victims in the zoo. You’re right that it is basically a suicide pact–well, suicide by cop–although they haven’t really thought that through. For me the vagueness is about Robbie’s own lack of thought and understanding–he’s thought of this as a movie, detached, and he’s managed to avoid thinking about the uncomfortable parts. The real lives he’s ending. The end of his own life. He’s glossed over his actions, and he’s not really thinking much about real, ugly, concrete death.
First, I would like to start by saying that I read A LOT of books in the thriller genre and this book was completely different from anything I’ve ever read before. I found myself scared to turn each page but at the same time, I didn’t want the book to end because I was enjoying it so much. I was completely hooked from beginning to end.
At first, I was somewhat frustrated with the ending but I am so happy I came across your website to help give my mind a little closure and fully understand the reasoning of it ending the way that it did.
I don’t think I will ever be able to step foot in a zoo again with out this terrifyingly great story popping into my mind!
My sister was your mom’s roommate in college and gave me the book to read. I never read anything so quickly & with such intensity. Beautifully written and does accurately describe the love & protection moms feel for their children. My sister is so proud of you & loves your mom.
Oh, I love seeing this! Thank you so much!
Read it after finishing Little Fires Everywhere. Two books about what it means to be a mother. Fierce Kingdom depicts what one would hope for in one’s own mother, and in one’s own mothering. No matter the ending, Joan is a mother who TRULY deserves to hold the shining badge of fierce courage, as opposed to either of the protagonists in LFE who are so wrapped up in their own private pains and needs they cannot see the destruction wreaked on all those they came to live.
Thanks so much, Sarah! I read Little Fires Everywhere, too, and I, too, thought about the differing–and sometimes overlapping–views of motherhood. Thanks so much for the kind words! I’m glad you connected with Joan.
Edit to the comment above: all those they claim to love!