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The Measure: What Happens At The End? + Summary

the measure ending explained

The Measure is Nikki Erlick’s debut novel, released in 2022 by William Morrow. It became a New York Times Bestseller and gained recognition as the Read with Jenna book club pick on The TODAY Show, as well as the Barnes and Noble Discover pick.

Erlick, with degrees from Harvard and Columbia, has a background as a travel writer and ghostwriter, with her work featured in publications like New York Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, and Newsweek.

The book explores existential questions about measuring one’s life and delves into the societal, cultural, and political implications.

Summary | Ending Explained | Book Club Questions

The Measure Summary

One day, a mysterious wooden box appears at the doorstep of every person over 22 worldwide. Subsequently, everyone receives a similar box on their 21st birthday. Each box bears the message, “The measure of your life lies within,” along with a coil of string indicating the length of the recipient’s life. The novel follows the lives of various New Yorkers as they grapple with the lengths of their strings and the broader societal impact of this newfound knowledge.

Nina and Maura, a couple in New York, face a significant shift in their plans when they discover that Nina has a long string, while Maura’s is short. This revelation prompts them to reassess their future together. Maura attends a support group at the school where Nina’s sister, Amie, works, connecting with Ben, an architect dealing with a breakup due to his short string. In a therapeutic exercise, each group member is asked to express their feelings in a letter addressed to whomever they choose.

The following day, Amie discovers an anonymous letter in her classroom, presumably written during the support group meeting. Touched by the letter, she responds, initiating an anonymous exchange with Ben that lasts for several months. Amie deliberately avoids checking her own box, and their correspondence becomes a way for both to explore the profound questions raised by the mysterious strings.

While individuals grapple with the personal impact of the strings, governments globally are grappling with how to handle this phenomenon. In the United States, presidential candidate Anthony Rollins leads a task force that establishes the STAR Initiative. This initiative mandates that government officials and military personnel disclose their string lengths, with military assignments determined by string length. Short-stringed individuals are restricted from active duty due to the perceived risk of their death during service.

Jack Hunter, Anthony’s nephew, and Javier, his roommate and recent military academy graduates, face a dilemma. Despite Jack’s ambivalence toward a military career, Javier strongly desires it. Discovering that Javier has a short string and Jack has a long one, they decide to swap strings. Javier achieves his desired active-duty role, while Jack keeps his short string a secret, even from his family.

As Jack attends Anthony’s campaign events, Anthony uses Jack’s short string to deflect criticism of discrimination against short-stringed individuals. The negative perception of short-stringers intensifies due to a series of shootings, branding them as unstable and violent.

Upset with Jack for letting Anthony exploit his short string for political gain, Javier confronts him. In an effort to maintain their friendship, Jack takes a stand at one of Anthony’s events, publicly disapproving of his uncle’s anti-short-stringer stance. This marks a turning point against discrimination, and Jack and Javier reconcile at a New Year’s Eve party. However, Jack realizes he must do more to support Javier.

In the midst of their journeys, Nina and Maura plan a vacation to Italy. Maura entrusts Ben with her keys, allowing him to arrange a surprise for them. During this time, he meets Amie at their apartment, and after a series of dates, he realizes she is the one he has been corresponding with. When Ben confesses the truth about their connection and his short string, Amie briefly distances herself, grappling with the reality that their time together would be limited if they started a life together.

Nina and Maura, on the other hand, decide to take the next step in their relationship and get married. At their wedding, Amie and Ben reconnect and reaffirm their commitment to each other.

Tragedy strikes when Javier loses his life during a rescue mission. In response, Jack decides to publicly disclose their string-switching scheme. This action serves as a catalyst for dismantling the STAR Initiative and challenging institutionalized discrimination against those with short strings.

Almost a decade after the appearance of the mysterious boxes, Maura passes away. Ben and Amie, now married with two children, face a terminal illness diagnosis for Ben. Although prepared, a tragic car accident claims their lives one day after leaving the doctor’s office. Nina, who had not opened Amie’s box until then, discovers a short string. She adopts their children and, despite living in the suburbs, frequently visits the city to see a building Ben constructed and a bench in Central Park engraved by Amie.

Reflecting in the park, Nina observes a shift in attitudes towards short-stringers—now seen as resilient and courageous. She aspires to live her life with the same bravery and lack of fear characteristic of a short-stringer.

The Measure Ending Explained

First, Amie undergoes a significant change at Nina’s wedding. While dancing with Ben, she envisions their future together, including the possibility of losing him, which overwhelms her. However, a moment of clarity comes when she steps outside and hears a man on a bicycle playing a familiar tune. This connects to her correspondence with Ben and helps her realize that finding happiness means being willing to face potential pain.

In Part 6, titled “Spring,” Amie’s character arc concludes. Despite lingering worries about her courage to be with Ben, she is determined to cherish their time together. The author, Erlick, emphasizes Amie’s commitment when she revisits the Van Woolsey building, a symbol of her past dreams.

During this scene, Amie looks into the building’s courtyard, finding it beautiful but empty. She understands that her future is not there anymore and lets go of the fantasy. Unlike before, when Amie romanticized everything, she now embraces a practical outlook on her limited time with Ben and wonders about her future. This shift is a result of clear vision, acceptance, and a willingness to find happiness in the present rather than in an unrealistic future fantasy.

Likewise, Jack’s story wraps up in these last parts. At a New Year’s Eve party, he gets a chance to reconnect with Javier and recommits to making amends. Even after Javier’s passing, Jack uses Javier’s letter to expose the unfair treatment of short-stringers, making Javier part of his activism. Jack’s tale comes full circle when he meets someone Javier saved during his last mission. She helps Jack see that the length of someone’s string is about how they contribute to the world.

Although Jack and Javier couldn’t choose their string length, Jack decided to switch strings to support Javier’s military dreams. Despite being used in politics, Jack later chose to risk losing his family to do right by his friend. Jack’s life reflects the main theme: People can’t control fate, but they can control how they respond to challenges.

After a year, the strange appearance of the strings has become a normal part of life. People adjusted, seeing the strings as just another thing in life. When Ben hears teenagers on the subway talking about TV shows related to long and short strings, he realizes how quickly the world has adapted to this new way of life.

Lastly, as Nina reads the words on a bench in Central Park saying, “No matter what happens, I still feel the same” (345), we understand the message, but Nina doesn’t catch it, creating a kind of irony. These words originally came from Ben’s first letter to Amie, quoting a message from a soldier to his girlfriend. When we think about Amie and Ben’s relationship, especially with Ben’s short string, the message takes on a new meaning.

Interestingly, Amie never opened her box, so she didn’t know about her own short string or that her life would end when Ben’s did. Nina thinks that if Amie had known, she might have made different choices. The two lovely children Nina has now might not be around, and the life she loves wouldn’t be the same: “Maybe Amie’s choice not to look, not to know, gave both sisters the gift of these two precious souls” (345).

As the story ends, people’s views on short-stringers have changed. Initially seen as unstable and dangerous, they are now considered brave and purposeful. Nina points this out when she thinks about a new saying: “Live Like Your String is Short” (345).

In the final part of the novel, the theme of “Que Sera, Sera” comes back, finishing the story on a hopeful note. The man on the bicycle appears again, but he’s a bit tired, and the wheels turn slower. Despite this, the melody still plays as clearly as before. This picture of the man, tired but still going, reflects how people feel now. After getting used to the mysterious boxes and going through a lot, people may be tired, but they still stay hopeful.

Happy reading! ❤️