Hollywood's YA problem, and 11 books to fix it

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May 7, 2016, 7:52 PM EDT (Updated)

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Whether you were (or still are) a fan of the sparkling vampire sensation that was The Twilight Saga or not, its ubiquity and ravenous fanbase appeal, which hit a fever pitch in 2008 with the launch of its first swoony screen adaptation, were completely undeniable. Then The Hunger Games came along in quick succession to solidify the relevance of these Young Adult properties in the mainstream and launch a thousand ships in search of “the next next big thing” in the genre.

While the TV scene boasts considerable successes in translating L.J. Smith’s The Vampire Diaries (loosely translating, mind you) and Kass Morgan’s The 100, and E.L. James’s Twilight fanfic-turned-”mom porn” sensation trilogy Fifty Shades of Grey has produced its own little Hollywood empire, the odds have largely not been in the favor of many other hopeful YA adaptations.

Most recently, the third Divergent installment (which groanfully hopped aboard the two-part split train path led by Harry Potter, Twilight, and Hunger Games) did a virtual faceplant with ticket sales, as did the effort to bring Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave to cinematic fruition. (With Allegiant, it’s worth noting that the book itself was widely panned by even the most faithful of Veronica Roth’s initiates, so breaking it into two was the farthest thing from wise. And with 5th Wave, many of the promotional materials for the pic had reduced the otherwise fairly epic survival account into a crummy grocery-aisle romance story. So there’s that.)

Adding these two box-office bummers to the list of those stories which did not live up to their BFD sensation status potential in movie iteration (including Beautiful Creatures, Stephenie Meyer’s The Host, The Mortal Instruments, and Ender’s Game), a new narrative has emerged: The YA trend, which had caught so much fire for that awe$omely hot minute, has since flamed out, so everybody but John Green and his pals can pack up and go home now. 

Not so fast, though.

Not only are there a few in-the-works projects that are poised to turn the tide right back around, and soon, but there are also a boatload of books that have some remarkable mainstream potential on the big screen.

Here are our suggestions for books that can bring YA back from the dead in movies:

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Ransom Riggs’s unique (and, let’s face it, kinda creepy) tale of a kid who accidentally enters a time loop that serves as home for a group of wonderfully weird children is exactly the kind of space within which Tim Burton tends to thrive as a filmmaker (it’s basically Edward Scissorhands + 2010’s Alice in Wonderland - Willy Wonka). Look for this one to be an exercise in visual enchantment just like its source material when it premieres Sept. 30, 2016.


The BFG by Roald Dahl

The late, great Roald Dahl’s library of excellence has been a go-to for a number of stunners (Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Fantastic Mr. Fox), and while their box office appeal has been moderate, at best, in most cases (Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, e.g.), with Steven Spielberg at the reins, this film has considerable potential to own. From everything we’ve seen so far, the pic seems to fully captivate the shocking harmlessness of this creature who doles out good dreams and snacks on snozzcumbers -- unlike his fellows in giantdom, who tend to eat children. It is already in the works, and opens July 1, 2016.


Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander (but really, J.K. Rowling)

The Harry Potter universe is still expanding (note: it’s magic). The ever-inventive J.K. Rowling has now transformed one slim chapter of her supportive library of HP texts -- Fantastic Beasts, an encyclopedic collection of the wizarding world’s most fascinating creatures -- into an all-new film series that’s almost guaranteed to lumos-light up the muggle world yet again. We can return to the wizarding world when the movie debuts Nov. 18, 2016.


Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Spielberg is actually doubling down on the YA front right now, as he’ll also adapt Ernest Cline’s 2011 sci-fi novel, which thrust its escapist protagonist into a virtual reality world filled with puzzles and nastiness from within the competitive player community. Given the timeliness of the narrative -- VR devices are this close to being commonplace in personal use, and gamer culture is as developed as ever -- this has a great chance of landing as a WarGames meets The Wizard-style commentary on the present through the dystopian lens when it hits in 2017..


Blood Red Road by Moira Young

Now that Katniss Everdeen is finished toppling the Capitol empire and restoring unity to Panem, there’s a vacant space for her exact kind of against-all-odds sisterly devotion. With Moira Young’s Dustlands Trilogy, there’s not only that identifiable facet of family first, no matter the circumstances (and, lo, Saba’s life is as bleak and dry as what Furiosa was working with in Mad Max: Fury Road), but there are also some zippy pseudo-supernatural elements (like a spookily prescient crow, for example) to help elevate the narrative to that next level of adaptability. Ridley Scott secured the rights to the movie back before the book’s publication, and it’s being scripted by Jack Thorne.


An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

The most recent episode of YA a**-ownage has come through by way of Sabaa Tahir’s Game of Thrones-meets-The Hunger Games style deathmatch series starter. In story, we get two perspectives of the empire -- one of a competitor, viciously vying for the throne, and another of a woman whose quest to rescue her brother from the clutches of certain death -- so there are several layers of material worth exploring and enjoying in an adaptation of the same.


The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Mayer

The Disney Princess redux theme was the viral sensation of 2015, and if that trend of seeing fairy tale characters in a new light holds strong, this is the perfect series to draw from for the next round. Starting with Cinder, a cyborg variation of the Cinderella story set in a disease-riddled futuristic world in which the moon has been colonized and run by a tyrannical queen, the series presents the “princesses” in an all-new, ultra-capable light.


Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

This heralded 2010 novel presents the world as the environmental disaster zone it very well might become, should climate change continue on its potentially life-altering path. In it, children are essentially slaves to trade masters and are sent to scurry through the tiny crevices of beached ships in order to scoop up whatever valuable bits of copper are left within its walls, and the brutality of life is something they become intimately familiar with even in infancy. It is eerie and maddening and at the same time an overwhelmingly good story with gobs of potential for the silver screen treatment.


The Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Tally Youngblood exists within a world of such vaingloriousness that communities are literally divided between the Uglies -- those children who are too young to receive their full-body plastic surgery ritual that serves as a right of passage -- and the Pretties. And while her life’s goal, like most others, is simply to make it to that actually greener pasture on the other side, she discovers a rebellious underbelly that makes her question the constructs of superficial reality that have been created for her and embarks on a rather epic journey of revolt against the system which had convinced her she wasn’t good enough. The adaptation of this thing has been knocking around for ages, but it’s hard to fathom why it’s taken this long to make this movie (or perhaps even better, TV series) happen. It could be pretty amazing.


The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

If you want to get some good arm exercise, pick up Shadow and Bone and you’ll soon find yourself fist-pumping like crazy as you follow the journey of Alina Starkov, a girl who can harness the power of light and must find a way to escape the darkness that surrounds her life in the Kingdom of Ravka (which is brimming with monstrous fiends that would love to make a meal out of her and her best friend Mal). It’s currently in development at DreamWorks, but the project seems to have stalled out since being snagged four years ago. If and when it does kick back into gear, count on this one to be a big draw-in for the lit-to-flick faithful.


Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

The story of Karou, an art student in Prague who just so happens to be the adopted daughter of Brimstone - aka the Devil, himself - is wild and nimbly bridges the divide between the postmodern world and the religious tenets that informed so much of history. The chimaera that raised her hold the portal key to the underworld, where Karou is expected to deliver teeth to her “father” (the more painful the extraction, the better) in exchange for wishes, even as she grapples with simple human problems like ducking that pesky ex-boyfriend of hers. The series is widely revered for its originality, and with an imaginative CGI team on-crew, this could make for a great Constantine-meets-Pan’s Labyrinth stunner.