Just this summer The New York Times made a significant change in their weekly reporting of the bestseller list of young adult (YA) titles, separating out young adult (and middle grade) bestsellers by format (hardcover, paperback, e-book). This means it's a bit easier to discover new books and new authors and it means that YA literature is being treated in ways that parallel adult literature and also has clearly found a substantial mainstream audience. In fact, YA literature has become a popular crossover choice for adult readers, even meriting regular reviews in adult publications like Entertainment Weekly. YA novels about conflicted friendships and dysfunctional families, bullying and manipulation, body image or chronic illness, war and terrorism, gender and sexual identity, horror or suicide have all clearly captured an audience among teens and adults.
What is it about YA literature that has grabbed so many avid fans? Certainly, the stories, characters, and fresh writing are a huge part of the appeal. But YA literature is also making its presence felt in film adaptations that extend the reach internationally. Teen novels have been optioned for film for several generations—as far back as The Outsiders or even much earlier, Little Women. But the Harry Potter fantasy novels by J. K. Rowling may have been the biggest game changer for both print publishing and film adaptations of books for young readers. They were both a critical and commercial success and spawned films with wide appeal, literary and cinematic integrity, and huge box office profits for the new millennium. Then came the Twilight books and movies, proving that teen fare (and vampires) had crossover appeal to adult audiences world-wide starting with the first book in 2005 (translated into 37 languages) and the first film in 2008. Then in 2012, the first Hunger Games film was released, grossing nearly half a billion dollars thus far, followed by three additional films based on the books in the series. The success of this dystopian story spawned more adaptations of more dystopian novels including the Divergent series by Veronica Roth and The Maze Runner series by James Dashner. Next, the adaptation of John Green's story of a teen lovers each struggling with cancer, The Fault in Our Stars, earned an incredible $307.2 million and sold 10.7 million copies in print. Clearly, film and YA literature are having a mutual moment.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Paper Towns by John Green
Fat Kid Rules the World by K. L. Going
Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
Before I Die (film: "Now is Good") by Jenny Downham
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
The Geography Club by Brent Hartinger
Avalon High by Meg Cabot
The Last Apprentice (film: "The Seventh Son") by Joseph Delaney
The DUFF by Kody Keplinger
Sold by Patricia McCormick
Z For Zachariah by Robert C. O'Brien
The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
Fallen by Lauren Kate
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
Dumplin' by Julie Murphy
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Looking for Alaska by John Green
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Ferals by Jacob Greg
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Chew by John Layman
You'll notice quite a variety of YA novels are making their way to the screen, although there are still plenty of dystopian stories being adapted into film. Sometimes, filmmakers are reaching back to previous eras to make or remake older works, such as Tiger Eyes with a screenplay co-written by author Judy Blume and directed by her son Lawrence. But quite often media rights are being optioned when the book is first sold to the publishing house, as with I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. Most of the time the title stays the same, presumably to build on the ready-made audience. When a book is part of a series and one film adaptation is successful, you can usually count on the rest of the books being adapted too. That's the power of the series in print AND celluloid. If an author has a big following, he or she is almost as bankable as a series, as is apparent with the success of John Green and the systematic adaptation of each of his novels into film. It helps that he is so effective in mustering social media to build an audience for his work. That is certainly a tool that authors, filmmakers, and fans are using to build support for their favorites.
Any librarian will tell you that a successful book-based film often drives people to read the book upon which the film is based. That is a great marketing tool for educators to remember when encouraging reading. Seeing the movie first gives young readers a schema for the story that can assist with reading and understanding the book. Show a movie excerpt and motivate readers!
Many libraries plan programs that include movie clubs where young people can read, watch, compare and discuss. Which did you like better? The movie or the book? Why? How faithful is the adaptation? What did you visualize when you read the book? These are all excellent questions for building comprehension and critical thinking. Moving from page to screen and back again offers multi-media opportunities for teens (and adults) to read, watch, think, and wonder.
Box Office data for movie grosses
Word and Film
Kelly Jensen: Stacked
Rincey Abraham: Rincey Reads