BARNES AND NOBLE'S PICKS FOR BEST YOUNG ADULT FICTION OF 2011
Young adult fiction, as we have heard and heard and heard, has become the fastest-growing segment of the publishing industry, roping in readers of all ages. With unbridled success has come both undeserved mania, as the last possible hope for writers to make a living off the written word, and undeserved scorn, as little more than a brief stopover for stories about vampires and preps and preppy vampires en route to the movies. (Not to knock preppy vampires -- Sarah Beth Durst's book Enchanted Ivy, about Princeton's monstrous underbelly, was actually pretty good.)
The ten books on this list are not the bestselling books of the year. They are not the ones most likely to be coming to the local multiplex any time soon, nor the ones whose protagonists' names will become synonymous with the debut role for the next generation of teenage movie stars (though at least one, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, has been optioned for a feature film). Their protagonists are not necessarily good-looking or wealthy or attendees of fabulous schools (though readers looking for a more nuanced view of the fancy private school set should check out Cristina Garcia's Dreams of Significant Girls, reviewed earlier this year).
They are simply good books. They are books for people of all ages who appreciate what makes a story work on the page: fresh storytelling, a distinctive voice, and compelling use of language. They include stories of runaways, baseball fans, pet owners, girl rockers, missing brothers, well-adjusted gay teens, and gay-bashers. They take place in small towns, the big city, Japan, Prague, and outer space. Two of the three books that deal with paranormal activity at least flirt with the possibility that it's all just a metaphor for the human condition, before going ahead and introducing a few monsters anyway. Two are graphic novels. Most are, at base, simply highly satisfying, realistic novels that describe the world as seen through the eyes of persons who happen to be somewhere between the ages of twelve and eighteen.
Carrlos Duarte and his sister, Rosalia, vow they will never be like their mother, "managing a dry-cleaners and not being able to afford anything unless it was on sale." But while Rosalia goes to to school "to be a medical technician at a place she learned about from a poster on the subway" and works at Burrito Take-Out Village, Carrlos dreams of being a makeup artist, even if his mother thinks it's no place for a boy. Armed with a portfolio shot by his cute rocker friend, a pair of borrowed thigh-high Stella McCartney stiletto boots, and a vinyl tote that totally looks like Gucci, even though it's from the kids' section at Duane Reade, Carrlos is given a chance at FeatureFace, the most glamorous makeup counter at Macy's. Although this novel is sweetly optimistic, it walks a neat line between depicting the things that can be fixed with talent, persistence, and making it a point to arrive to every appointment overprepared and ten minutes early, and what can not (his mother's layoff, his sister's refusal to leave her abusive boyfriend, a misunderstanding with his first crush).
It's 1986, and thirteen-year-old Birdie lives in a town that is "merely a dot" between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Birdie spends her summer vacation making fresh squid ink pasta at her mother's cheese shop with Nick, a nineteen-year-old surfer boy with sea-green eyes and a lime-green Vespa, and tending to her pet rat, named Humboldt Fog. Hum is "an ordinary rat. He didn't talk, he didn't have magical powers, a lesson to teach me, or wisdom to impart. He was just a rat, and although at first he made me squeamish, I grew to love him terribly." Likewise, in a field dominated by books about magical powers or with lessons to teach, Reinhardt is content to stick to understated beauty and distinctive, exquisitely drawn characters. The plot, though dramatic at its crescendo, proceeds subtly and organically out of the characters themselves and is neither predictable nor clichéd, but beautifully, fully earned.
"Being seventeen and bored in a small town, I like to pretend sometimes that I am a pessimist," says Cullen Whitter, "only I can't seem to keep that up for too long before my natural urge to idealize goes into effect." The targets of his idealism include his brother, Gabriel (who reads books and knows about bands no one else has ever heard of), his best friend, Lucas (defender of the weak), and Ada Taylor ("a beautiful girl with a big, burly boyfriend who would just as soon kick my ass as look at me"). But then his town is besieged by adventurers looking for a woodpecker once thought extinct, nicknamed Lazarus, and Gabriel simply disappears. Cullen dreams of zombie wars and makes up titles for unwritten novels, while a parallel narrative about a failed African missionary and his depressed roommate only seems tangential, until the two intersect in surprising -- and, depending on one's perspective, either dark or lovely -- ways.
When Joe Pepitone, slugger for the New York Yankees, gives twelve-year-old Doug Swieteck his cap in 1968, it is "the first thing I ever owned that hadn't belonged to some other Swieteck before me." It lasts less than five months before his older brother, Christopher, offers to break his arm if he doesn't give it up. Thanks to his father, a drunk who regularly gets fired from jobs for telling his boss exactly what he thinks, and his other brother, Lawrence, now off in Vietnam, Doug spends half his time acting like "the biggest jerk" and the other half worried that not to be a jerk is to be a "chump." But when he moves to a small town in Upstate New York, he makes friends, gets a job as a delivery boy, and discovers he not only loves to look at Audubon's Birds of America at his local library but can draw them, too. As the boy dealt a crappy hand struggles to become a good man, he does his best to show the other big jerks around him that the nice guy isn't always just a chump.
Black Creek, North Carolina, is the kind of place where the word "grandmother" is considered "ooh la la" and two children named Cat and Patrick play with coffin bugs, no-see-ums, chiggers, and roly-polies in the crawl space, under the watchful eye of Mama Sweetie. Then sixteen-year-old Patrick is found beaten and left for dead outside the local Come 'n' Go. Cat, his former best friend, has withdrawn from him -- and most of her town -- after learning at the hands of a wealthy boy that, as her Aunt Tildy puts it, the world isn't an easy place "'specially for a pretty girl." But when the rest of the town seems to believe that Patrick got what was coming to him, Cat sets out to uncover the truth, unlocking Twin Peaks-worthy tableaux: girls in pink cowgirl boots spilling secrets about the finer points of meth labs, boys named Beef delivering orders for mysterious peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwiches. Cat carves out a hard-won space for those like her who "talk funny" on account of reading books, though the truth, when it comes, seems downright small-town Christian -- in the very best way -- in its conviction that redemption comes from confession and forgiveness from the community.
This novel begins in Prague, "city of alchemists and dreamers," in the dead of winter, with a young tattooed art student named Karou whose hair grows out of her head "pure as ultramarine straight from the paint tube." She fills her notebook with drawings of beauties, half human and half beast, and a cave where humans descend to sell teeth to a gnarled man. The man is her supernatural father, a cranky patriarch who rules the underworld, grants his adopted daughter new languages as birthday presents, and sends her on international teeth-collecting errands through portals emblazoned with black hand prints, during which she also tools around the Marrakesh spice market, or, say, returns with an original Anna Pavlova costume from a Parisian flea market for her best friend. When she is attacked by a man with "kohl-rimmed eyes" in a "sun-bronzed face," he, naturally, turns out to be both enemy and lover. Though star-crossed romances of the supernatural variety are not exactly in short supply, this one is steeped in atmosphere and wintry beauty.
"That's where they burned her heart," begins this novel, as two girls huddle in a New England cemetery, looking at the grave site of Mercy Brown, who died in 1892. They don't mean that metaphorically. Mercy Brown died of tuberculosis, or "consumption," but she is remembered as one of the few historical "vampires." When her little brother, too, caught the highly communicable disease, she was accused of sickening him from beyond the grave. Her body was exhumed, her heart burned, and her brother forced to drink the ashes (he still died). Haley, a young photographer, with a sick cousin, a dog, and a sinister Aunt Brown, researches the fate of Mercy, her relative, in the stifling closeness of a small New England town. The novel might be even better if it did not indulge in its own supernatural elements, but in all cases, it is a refreshing reminder that much of what we call supernatural phenomena are very human indeed.
Anyone who has ever shuffled through boxes of vintage photographs at a flea market understands the appeal of imagining stories for stranger's lives. Ransom Riggs has built an entire novel on a collection of unusual Victorian photographs of "peculiar" children: a levitating little girl, a boy with bees in his chest. He transforms these artifacts of fakery into a rollicking modern adventure story about a teenage boy who seeks to discover the truth about a mysterious island in Wales where his late grandfather was sheltered during World War II. With its chocolate and cognac endpapers and full-page black-and-white photographs, this clever novel is also an exquisite reminder of the pleasures of the book as a beautifully designed object.
During the late 1990s, during the heyday of the Spice Girls and Josie and the Pussycats, superstar alt-comics writers Peter Bagge (Hate) and Gilbert Hernandez collaborated on a comic book aimed at young teenage girls. The ladies of Yeah! -- Krazy, Honey, and Woo-Woo -- are intergalactic stars, famous everywhere in the universe, except Earth. Returning from a fifty-planet tour, they are stuck playing a Battle of the Bands in Rahway, New Jersey with their archrivals, an all-boy Beatles knockoff called the Snobs. The complete comics, collected for the first time this year, arrive just in time to snag teens engaged in retro nineties DIY zine and girl culture.
Shuichi Nitori is a boy who looks longingly at dresses and headbands; Yoshino Takatsuki is a girl who wants to crop her hair and wear schoolboy uniforms. They meet on the cusp of adolescence and soon become best friends. Together with their siblings and classmates, the two navigate gender roles -- including cross-dressing in other neighborhoods and in a school play -- without quite having the words for what they feel. The story is simple and lovely, while the manga is presented between hard covers and "unflipped" -- i.e., read from right to left -- which Japanophiles will find stylish and authentic.
HOLLYWOOD CRUSH/MTV (readers') PICKS FOR BEST YOUNG ADULT FICTION OF 2011
Holy upset, YA fans! The results are in for Hollywood Crush's poll of the top teen reads of 2011, and after tens of thousands of votes, the winner is none other than "The Future of Us," by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler! The quirky collaboration beat out the week's oft-leader, Cassandra Clare's "Clockwork Prince," by a mere 1 percent of the vote with Richelle Mead's "Bloodlines" rounding out the top three.
And what a year it was. We were introduced to a handful of debut authors who are bound to leave their mark on the literary scene (we're looking at you, Veronica Roth, Marie Lu and Tahereh Mafi!). We dove into new series from old favorites (Richelle Mead's "Bloodlines"). And we continued our adventures with the usual suspects (Cassandra Clare, Ally Condie and Melissa de la Cruz). We stayed up late, reading just one more chapter until it was dawn, shuffling into school or the office like so many brain-hungry zombies. And we adored every second of it. And now it's time for you, Crushers, to declare your undying love and devotion for the book that made your year. What was your favorite YA novel of 2011? Vote in our poll after the jump!
'The Future of Us' by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler 28.63%
'Starcrossed' by Josephine Angelini 1.61%
'Beauty Queens' by Libba Bray 0.27%
'City of Fallen Angels' by Cassandra Clare 4%
'Clockwork Prince' by Cassandra Clare 27.43%
'Crossed' by Ally Condie 0.22%
'Wolfsbane' by Andrea Cremer 0.26%
'The Girl With the Steel Corset' by Kady Cross 0.04%
'Lost in Time' by Melissa de la Cruz 0.85%
'Wither' by Lauren DeStefano 0.15%
'Devoted' by Hilary Duff 0.02%
'Silence' by Becca Fitzpatrick 0.67%
'Where She Went' by Gayle Forman 0.24%
'Beautiful Chaos' by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl 0.15%
'The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer' by Michelle Hodkin 0.15%
'The Name of the Star' by Maureen Johnson 0.91%
'Legend' by Marie Lu 0.08%
'Shatter Me' by Tahereh Mafi 5.04%
'Bumped' by Megan McCafferty 0.05%
'Hourglass' by Myra McEntire 0.49%
'Bloodlines' by Richelle Mead 25.3%
'Delirium' by Lauren Oliver 0.49%
'Lola and the Boy Next Door' by Stephanie Perkins 0.18%
'Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children' by Ransom Riggs 0.07%
'Divergent' by Veronica Roth 1.85%
'The Dark and Hollow Places' by Carrie Ryan 0.11%
'Forever' by Maggie Stiefvater 0.18%
'Scorpio Races' by Maggie Stiefvater 0.13%
'Daughter of Smoke and Bone' by Laini Taylor 0.3%
'Blood Red Road' by Moira Young 0.12%
YOUNG ADULT AUTHORS WEIGH IN ON WHICH YA BOOKS THEY WANT TO SEE TURNED INTO MOVIES
Four major film adaptations of children’s books (“Hugo,” “Twilight: Breaking Dawn [Part I],” “Tintin” and “War Horse”) have hit theaters in the past two months; throw in “Harry Potter” 7.2, released this summer, and you’ve got a pretty spectacular year for young-adult stories in Hollywood. The trend looks set to continue through next spring, with the release of the first “Hunger Games” movie in March.
We asked a number of authors — most of whom write specifically for young adults — to share their thoughts on the best and worst teen-book-to-movie adaptations, and to name the titles they’d like to see hit the big screen in the coming years. Their responses follow; please share your own nominations (for any of the three categories) in the comments below.
Without a doubt, my favorite adaptation is “Hugo,” from “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.” This is partly because Brian O. Selznick wrote and drew his story to mimic camera techniques, and the great Martin Scorsese takes all his cues from the novel.
I am told that the movie based on “The Dark Is Rising” is pretty lousy; the novelist, Susan Cooper, begged me not to see it, and out of long-standing friendship I have obeyed her. I have never been able to watch any iteration of “Charlotte’s Web” because the magic of E. B. White’s prose is beyond the scope of film magic.
Maurice Sendak says, and I agree with him, that Disney’s “Pinocchio” is a better story than Collodi’s novel. I would insist that the 1939 film of “The Wizard of Oz” is better constructed than the 1900 novel on which it is based, and that “Return to Oz” is an overlooked masterpiece much better than the several Baum novels upon which it is based.
There are a few books with wonderful shapes (and I think shapeliness is one of the most important features of storytelling in the movies) that, if they have been adapted, I haven’t seen or know about. John Gardiner’s “Stone Fox” is one of them; Clayton Bess’ “Story for a Dark Night” is another. An older novel long out of fashion but inherently filmic, I think, is “Loretta Mason Potts” by Mary Ellen Chase.
And has there ever been a film of “The Pushcart War” by Jean Merrill? I love that novel.
I think [movie adaptations of books] are pretty uniformly disappointing, with some (“Tuck Everlasting”) spectacularly worse than others. My only real favorite is the obvious “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which was not published as a YA book (though if it had been written today, it would have been).
I think the film adaptation of “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” about a kid in the Midwest who sneaks out of his house late at night to watch a carnival set up — and discovers the carnival is a place of horror — captures the chills of Ray Bradbury’s novel. It’s faithful to the spirit of the book, although it’s impossible to capture Bradbury’s wonderful language on film.
I also thought the movie of Philip Pullman’s “The Golden Compass” was enchanting and fun. But most moviegoers didn’t agree. I was disappointed they never made a sequel.
I’d love to see some of William Sleator’s terrific fantasy-sci-fi YA novels turned into films. “House of Stairs” and “Interstellar Pig” would make great movies.
I think “Howl’s Moving Castle” has to be the best film adaptation of a young-adult book. The book is terrific but the movie is better. I know that’s blasphemy for a writer to say, but the imagination of the filmmakers — the images they create — are better than anything that I created as I read the novel. The filmmakers became my imagination. My two sons also think this is the best adaptation ever.The worst adaptation by far is the Mike Myers version of “Cat in the Hat.” They took the genius simplicity of Seuss and turned it into a beginning improv exercise for Myers. I can’t think of any live action Seuss adaptation that works. I’m terrified of what a megalomaniac director and actor will eventually do to “Go, Dog, Go!”
The movie I’d like to see is “Catcher in the Rye,” written and directed by David Cronenberg.
I don’t see that many movies of children’s books. Certainly, the classic was “The Outsiders,” but I saw it so many years ago that now I don’t remember it. I just remember thinking it had this gritty quality to it that was very faithful to the book. Another movie that I thought was really great — and that surprised me — was “Holes,” the adaptation of the Louis Sachar book. It’s interesting: Sachar wrote the screenplay for that. And sometimes that doesn’t work so well — but I really think it did, in this situation.
Which book would I like to see adapted? “The Giver.” Why that book has not been turned into a movie I don’t know. I suppose right now, everybody’s into … vampires and very flashy, brutal dystopias; “The Giver” is so quiet, compared to that — no vampires. But that is the one movie that I feel absolutely should be made.
I can’t think of any others that I feel quite so passionately about. There’s a beautiful, old British book, that I just think is one of the best fantasies ever: “Tom’s Midnight Garden,” by Philippa Pearce. I think that would make a beautiful movie.
My three favorite adaptations of movies are the following. Most recently: “Hugo,” which I found charming, deliciously antique, occasionally vertigo-inducing, and smartly made. The only Disney adapation of a book/story I have ever liked is “Tangled.” And I think the Judy Garland “Wizard of Oz” is better than the book, which, while wildly inventive, has such flat affect and overly simplistic prose that it makes my teeth ache.
Three that I would like to see made are Shannon Hale’s “Goose Girl” and the books that follow it, Patricia C. Wrede’s “Enchanted Forest” books, and Bruce Coville’s “Magic Shop” books. I know that’s cheating because I would be getting multiple movies out of a choice of three, but nobody says these kind of choices are fair. As a fourth, I’d say Anne McCaffrey’s “Harper Hall” books. All of these could be made now with the advent of CGI.
As far as the worst — hands down is the Disney “Jungle Book.” Making those animals cute, singing and dancing in a cute jungle, still gives me the heeby-jeebies. Gorgeous writing flattened into Disney tropes.
I must be the worst person to ask this question — I always hate films of books, because movies by the necessities of their form change things and leave things out. If I don’t like a book, I’m unlikely to see the movie, and if I do like the book then I almost always think the movie spoils it. The same goes whether it’s a book for children or adults. I think movies should do what they’re good at and stick to original stories, or use short work or plays as their inspirations. The only exception to this is William Goldman’s “The Princess Bride.”
I love movie adaptations of books. I know some people hate to see their favorites desecrated, but I think you can accomplish a lot in a movie you can’t in a book, and vice versa. I adore books and movies with very consistent moods throughout, and I love cleverness, and I love wry humor, so it should surprise no one that my favorite book-to-movie adaptation is “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” It charms utterly with its so-ugly-it’s-pretty ’70s paint job throughout, whimsical stop-motion animation, and precocious dialogue. Also, Mr. Fox is my hero.
My dream adaptations? I’d love to see Rick Yancey’s “The Monstrumologist” made into an eerie, Victorian movie. And Natalie Standiford’s “How to Say Goodbye in Robot” would make a great movie, fitting solidly in the “wistfully humorous could star Zach Braff” genre.
The best — and most shamefully overlooked — adaptation has to be the “The Iron Giant.” Based on Ted Hughes’ book and directed by Brad Bird, who did “The Incredibles” (and the upcoming “Mission Impossible”), it’s everything a brilliant YA film should be: exciting but smart, human without being gooey, moving and funny and surprising. It’s a terrific film. I know too many children’s authors personally to talk about ones I liked the least, I’m afraid, but as for one I wished would be filmed, I’d have to say “A Wrinkle in Time.” Weird, mind-bending, humane, it’s not necessarily a blockbuster, but there’s room for art everywhere and that definitely includes YA.
For my money, the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy is the best adaptation of a fantasy series that appeals to a lot of young people ever put to the screen. They committed fully to their fantasy world, to inhabiting it completely, and understanding what the books were really about. At the end of the day, for me, adaptations are really about the characters, and “Lord of the Rings” was one of the few adaptations I’ve seen where those characters seemed to truly live, to have histories and real reactions and doubts.
A more recent one I thought was overlooked and really enjoyable was the adaptation of “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn. The movie is charming and captures that sense of being out all night when you’re a teenager and it feels like anything is possible. As for ones I don’t like — a lot of people love it, but I hated “The Neverending Story.” I was a tiny kid when it came out but a big fan of the book and half the book was left out! I was crushed. I did once hear someone say, “Never judge a book by its movie,” and I think that’s probably true.
[For my favorite,] I have to go back to the adaptation of “A Little Princess” in 1995. It was a nearly perfect version that honored the needs of the movie audience while remaining faithful to the book.
The basic problem I’ve seen, over and over, is that the movie versions get saccharin or overly silly where the book does not. It’s as if filmmakers don’t trust their audiences the way writers do. Every adaptation of “Charlotte’s Web” has erred in the too-sickly-sweet department — a complete misunderstanding of what E.B. White was doing. Similarly, “Harriet the Spy” had none of the tart realism of the book. Not horrible movies per se, until you compare them to the books.
Also, I absolutely loathed the live-action “Grinch.” It was a misguided effort from the beginning, because if there ever was a story that needed to stay in animation, this is it.
For middle-grade realism, I would love to see Deborah Wiles’ National Book Award finalist, “Each Little Bird That Sings,” as a movie (by a director who can avoid dipping into sentimentality). It’s set in a funeral home run by the most wonderful family ever. For young adult, I’d pick Holly Black’s recent “White Cat” series. It’s a fascinating alternative America where magic is real but illegal, and so there’s an underground network of “curse workers” who function basically like the mob.
“Because of Winn-Dixie,” by Kate DiCamillo, was a charming movie — adorable dog and kids — but it lacked the emotional depth that I enjoyed when reading the book.
I’ve read “Walking Up a Rainbow” by Theodore Taylor several times, and always thought this adventure on the American frontier with a 14-year-old orphaned heroine would make a wonderful movie.
So far I think “Narnia I: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” comes out on top, and not just because C. S. Lewis’ work has always been such an influence for me. That story was always going to be tough to adapt effectively for a modern audience, and everything could have gone so spectacularly wrong had the producers succumbed to the pressures that get piled onto any property tightly anchored to a time and place in the real world that is not modern North America. I can just hear what some of the early development meetings must have sounded like. “Can’t we move it into the here-and-now? We’re going to alienate our target audience. They don’t know anything about wartime London, anyway, so let’s just move the characters to New York or LA, they can get into Narnia just as well from there …” Doug Gresham and the Lewis estate should be commended for standing their ground and keeping the films’ story line away from the here and now and safely in the there and then.
Which is the worst? If it’s feature film we’re discussing, probably the adaptation I’ve seen that stands out as most completely screwed-up would be “The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising.” The basic concept was eviscerated and left staggering around like a zombie-ized shell of itself, and all the good character business was either dumbed down, ripped out or rendered meaningless. It infuriated me, because that book was the anchor of one of the great mid-’70s YA fantasy series, a nuanced piece of work. And I don’t even know where or how to start realistically assigning blame, because again, so many things can go wrong with a YA-novel-based film project. But then adapting any novel property for film – and I speak as both screenwriter and novelist here – is simply one of the very hardest things, comparable to breaking rocks with your forehead or trying to win a land war in Asia. Any screen adaptation that even mostly works has a whiff of the miraculous about it.
[As for books I'd like to see adapted,] I have a longtime soft spot for Joy Chant’s “Red Moon and Black Mountain,” partly because she took the kids-fall-through-a-portal-into-another-w
With any movie adaptation of a novel, whether written for children, young adults or adults, I tend to watch it as a film and not make comparisons with the book, because they are very different media, and what might work on the page might not work on the screen (and vice versa). A novel will have to be cut and condensed considerably to fit into a couple of hours of screen time, so I’m quite happy for the filmmaker to make quite radical changes; that doesn’t bother me, and neither do I mind if the characters are not how I imagined them to be.
I do find that a poor, badly written book will become a poor movie. On the other hand, a richly and complex novel might be too much for the filmmaker to handle and might not “work” very well. I’d say that the film adaptation of Philip Pullman’s “The Golden Compass” falls into this category.
I enjoyed Peter Jackson’s adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” and the movie version of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”… Some writers’ books seem to lend themselves to the screen very well (I’m thinking about Kate DiCamillo’s “Because of Winn Dixie”). … [And] I loved Francis Ford Coppola’s “Dracula.” …
One of my favorite YA writers is Robert Cormier. I wonder why no one has made a movie version of one of his novels. I [also] think Patrick Ness’ “Chaos Walking” trilogy would make a great movie, but it would be a big challenge for the director.
An interesting case of a Newbery Honor Book turned movie is the 2007 adaptation of Susan Cooper’s “The Dark Is Rising” (called “The Keeper: The Dark Is Rising”). The original novel, published in the ’70s, established a lot of the common tropes of kids’ fantasy novels – for example, the odd penchant of Forces of Light in general for engaging underage teens to save the world. (Really? Is that a wise choice? Are those the only resumes they receive?)
The qualities of the original that make it a classic of the genre also make it a tough thing to adapt into a movie. It’s richly atmospheric and moody, even dreamy, evoking a Celtic Christmas that is ancient and half-pagan – but the confrontations between Light and Dark are subtle. The action is almost ritualistic.
For the movie, they threw the whole Celtic thing out the window and focused on action. By sapping the story of everything that made it particular (its mood and its focus on a seductive blend of British mythologies) they left behind only the elements that have been imitated so many times in the 30 years since the book’s publication that they’ve become cliché. So the filmmakers managed to create something that fans of the book hated – because it gutted the original material – while at the same time boring the hell out of everyone who didn’t know the book, because all that was left was insipidly generic. There is some pleasure to be had in seeing Ian McShane (“Deadwood”) play a guardian of the Forces of Light. Some of the bustling family scenes, scripted by the talented John Hodge (“Trainspotting”) have verve. Otherwise, the movie was universally panned.
So, this holiday season, stick with another Walden Media fantasy adaptation about kids thrown into a miraculous wintry world: their much more faithful and delightful “Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” In that movie, attention has been paid to detail, down to the characters’ splendid British overbites. Hoorah for World War II buck teeth chomping down on Turkish delight, and a Merry Christmas to all.
The worst film adaptation I’ve seen is “Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story.” It’s not really an adaptation; more like poor-quality fanfic that imagines Anne Shirley moving to New York, where she finds fame and fortune at a publishing house (I believe; I had to stop watching about 30 minutes in). I can see the temptation to enliven the story a bit, because the Anne series is so domestic in its focus (and what small-town kid doesn’t love a New York City sojourn?). But hearthside bliss is L. M. Montgomery’s whole point: As an orphan, Anne’s desire is to find a permanent family and she does this by having her own, not by working for twinkly-eyed, big-city publishers.
I’d love to see Erin Bow’s “Plain Kate” adapted for film. It’s a quest story with Russian fairy-tale flavor and a talking cat, and it’s gorgeous, powerful and unsentimental. I’m also eager to see how an unbeautiful heroine (Kate is “plain as a stick”) might translate to the screen.
The other day I watched the film adaptation of “Tenderness,” by Robert Cormier (the last book he published before he died). Though some of the story details differed from the book, the film was so incredibly tense and moody that it captured the feeling of reading Cormier. For me, so much about experiencing a book is about experiencing a feeling. If the movie version can evoke the same feeling, without necessarily sticking to the book as if it’s a blueprint, it’s a success for me.
I’d have to say [my favorite movie adaptation is] “Babe” (based on Dick King Smith’s “The Sheep Pig”). It’s a rare example where screenwriters have changed a lot of details, but retained the feel and emotion of the original story. You have to accept that film and text are different media. Too often, film adaptations either follow the plot of the book too slavishly and end up being stodgy or strip out so much that it feels nothing like the book on which it’s based.
I find it fascinating that theater directors agonize over changing a few lines in a play, but in the movies the script is chopped and changed during production and gets rewritten based on the thoughts of producers, investors and the lead actor’s ego. As a writer I’m naturally biased, but I can’t help but wonder if all this mucking about is one of the reasons why such a high proportion of movies are so poor.
The one [bad adaptation] I’d pick would have to be the film of Anthony Horowitz’s “Stormbreaker” (partly because we’ve been dissecting its epic-flop status while working on a movie script for on my own CHERUB spy series). “Stormbreaker” just got everything wrong, from casting an actor who was way too old for the main character, to being unable to decide whether it was a kids’ comedy or a teen thriller.
Which book would I like to see adapted? I’d have to say Malorie Blackman’s “Noughts and Crosses.” It’s not just that it’s a great book, it also has the kind of depth and emotional structure that would work well as a movie.
Movies and books are such radically different methods of telling a story, it’s hard for me to think of them in conjunction. A book can make a terrific movie, or a terrible movie — it depends on how the visual story is told. I don’t exactly credit or blame one for the other.
One of my very favorite movies is “Stand by Me.” It was based on a novella (not a YA, exactly) by Stephen King.
I would love to see a movie based on “Fighting Ruben Wolfe” by Markus Zusak. Boxing stories seem to do quite well in movie format, and this would be a good one.
My all-time favorite movie adaption is Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Black Stallion,” based on Walter Farley’s classic children’s novel. The movie is gorgeously cinematic, and Mickey Rooney is the quintessential Henry Daily, but it’s the moving bond between horse and boy that makes the film soar.
And on the subjects of horses and racing and gorgeously cinematic children’s books, Maggie Stiefvater’s “The Scorpio Races” would make a wonderful film. Warner Bros. has acquired the rights, so I have high hopes!
It’s also interesting to note how movies have changed the way books, especially children’s books, are written. Many authors now write with a cinematic perspective, “directing” their novels to paint a wide-lens picture, then focusing in on details and blocking scenes in a film-friendly way. I even see the influence of the “over the shoulder” shot in written dialogue.
My favorite movie adaptation: I think pretty much everything associated with “Holes” by Louis Sachar has been gold. The book is near flawless, and the film somehow managed to capture not just plot and character, but also the tone. One of those rare moments when a great book wins all the awards and sells a bunch of copies and makes a great movie and launches the career of Shia LeBeouf … “Howl’s Moving Castle” was also great.
My least favorite movie adaptation: See, this is a trick question. Some bad movies are wonderful adaptations of bad books. Who’s to blame for “Battlefield Earth,” for example? I don’t think “The Wizard of Oz” can rightly be called a “good” adaptation. It might be a good movie, but it didn’t do the world of Oz any favors (aside from keeping it in print for so long).
The books I would love to see as movies: Also a trick question? What if they’re ruined for a whole generation with a bad movie? I didn’t read “Little Women” for years because I’d already seen the movie. Even so, I’d like to see “The Witch of Blackbird Pond”; that could be dark and moody and brilliant. I’m very excited for “The Storm in the Barn” to be a movie. “The Westing Game” would make a great movie too (like “Clue,” for kids!).
The best film adaptations bring their own magic to an already magical story. The best example I can think of was “Bridge to Terabithia,” adapted from Katherine Paterson’s beautiful novel. The performances were all moving, and the use of special effects was completely tasteful. All in all I’d say this was a very successful adaptation, and it made me cry almost as hard as the book.
As far as an adaptation that didn’t work as well, I was a little disappointed in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” To be fair, this novel would be incredibly difficult to make into a film. Somehow, though, I felt the movie didn’t quite hit the mark, and I think the problem boiled down to Aslan, the kingly lion. The story relies on his majesty and his remarkable wisdom and grace. All these qualities would be near impossible to capture in a CGI character. This animated Aslan looked stiff and wooden — like a doll. As a result, I didn’t feel the admiration for him that the book inspired, and so all those dramatic moments that pivot on what happens to him lost their power for me.
A young adult novel that would make a great movie? There are so many to choose from! I really loved “A Northern Light” by Jennifer Donnelly. The backdrop is a murder mystery set in the early 1900s, but the real story is about a young woman’s struggle against the poverty and low expectations of her family. It’s incredibly moving, and I think it could make a very fine film in the right hands.
I’m planning that “War Horse,” Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s book by the same name, will be my favorite ever kid-book-turned-movie. On Christmas Day right after dessert, my family and I will head to the movie theater to catch it on opening day.
Now, you said six YA books that I’d love to see made into movies? Sure, no problem: “If You Come Softly,” by Jacqueline Woodson. “Eli the Good,” by Silas House. “The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind,” coming in March 2012 from Meg Medina, will make a stunning movie. [Also] “Skellig” by David Almond, “Stargirl” by Jerry Spinelli, and “Huntress” by Malinda Lo.
See you next year, ONTD book lovers!!! :D