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Young Adult Adaptations: In Defense Of The Kids

“Ugh, another movie about teenagers!”

I hear this refrain nearly every time an adaptation of a young adult novel is set to be released. There are variations: “Oh, another movie about teenagers in love”, “Why do we need another movie about kids saving the world?”, and so on and so forth. I’m here today with one simple wish: to no longer hear such sentiments. 

DIVERGENT with Shailene Woodley and Theo James
Photo from DIVERGENT (Summit Entertainment)

Although many adaptations of YA novels receive favorable reviews and word-of-mouth, they’re still frequently met with skepticism by movie-goers and critics. Writing off a movie just because it’s about teenagers or children, though, is silly. There’s no reason to compare a series like Twilight to a series like The Hunger Games because, really, they don’t have all that much in common other than the respective ages of their protagonists. And yet, with each release of a new YA adaptation the comparisons to completely dissimilar YA franchises pour out.

Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

If you take even a quick look at the reviews for the newest of these YA adaptations, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, you’ll see constant references to other films. Movies starring teenage characters are scarcely reviewed solely on their own merits; for whatever reason, these movies are placed into a single box, even when they’re entirely dissimilar.

In cases where the plots of these movies are similar on a surface level, they can still differ wildly in execution. The Fault in Our Stars and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl both involve young women suffering from cancer, yet they’re worlds apart stylistically. However, when Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was released, I heard constant groans (anecdotal evidence, I know!) of, “Why do we need another movie about a girl with cancer?”  Imagine if somebody said something like, “Why do we need another movie about a bank robbery?” It’d sound absolutely ridiculous.

Me and Earl And The Dying Girl
Photo from ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL (Fox Searchlight)

Part of the issue may simply be that some people think they’re too “adult” or “grown-up” to ever identify with a character younger than them. Think back to being a teenager; when you’re sixteen years old, you feel everything with a fierce intensity. That’s one of the things that makes movies with younger protagonists such fertile ground for drama. Watching humans learn how to deal with a whole new complicated set of emotions is fundamentally interesting. A 14-year-old will react to a post-apocalyptic dystopia much differently than an adult; both scenarios have the potential to make for an interesting movie, so one should not be written off solely due to the age of the hero.

Perhaps most importantly, YA adaptations are really beating the rest of the field when it comes to portrayals of strong, complex female characters.

Not a single movie set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has starred a woman, but many YA films have. Even if The Hunger Games, Divergent, or heck, even Twilight isn’t your cup of tea, it’s pretty great that they’ve boosted the careers of such talented actors as Jennifer Lawrence, Shailene Woodley, and Kristen Stewart.

Twilight: Breaking Dawn Pt 2
Photo from TWILIGHT: BREAKING DAWN PT 2 (Summit Entertainment)

Without Twilight, we may have never gotten Stewart’s brilliant turn in Clouds of Sils Maria. I find it pretty hard to take much fault with a genre (if YA should even be considered a genre unto itself) that has created those kinds of opportunities.

And, finally, don’t hate on kids for liking something that you see as childish. Maybe you think it’s silly that your niece is absurdly excited to see the newest adaptation of a John Green novel. Guess what? She might think it’s silly that you’re obsessing over Game of Thrones every week.

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