“Okay? Okay:” the legacy of YA fiction

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In 2009, the second book in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games series was released, as was the film adaptation of the sixth Harry Potter novel. As one young adult series’ grip on mainstream culture was beginning to loosen, another was rising to take its place. In the decade since then, it’s fair to say that young adult fiction experienced something of a heyday: writing aimed at teenagers suddenly became a goldmine. While Harry Potter had been a huge part of culture since the late 90’s, the 2010s exploded with similar series’ having their time in the spotlight.
Harry Potter has somehow risen from the grave in the past couple of years, but it seems to be the only property that has maintained the universal appeal that its contemporaries enjoyed for a time. With our decade soon drawing to a close, now seems like a good time to examine some of the most popular franchises of the past 10 years and see if they hold up to the excitement they generated at the time.

The Hunger Games
Suzanne Collins’ 2008 novel The Hunger Games spawned two sequel novels and a series of four films that ran until 2015. That’s an eight-year time frame and, amazingly, the series remained hugely popular for that entire time. It’s an impressive feat to say that, out of seven different products, only two of them are worth the excitement they generated. The first two of Collins’ novels are astounding, even if the central premise (a dystopian government forces a group of children to fight to the death for the entertainment of the rich) is completely ripped off from the Japanese film Battle Royale. Collins built an interesting world around that premise though and the second novel introduces some great twists in the tale. The final novel undoes all of that good work. Collins’ careful restraint on the science-fiction elements breaks, resulting in over-the-top sequences that add nothing to the narrative, as well as the narrative itself completely falling apart. The overall ending is fittingly bleak and one of my favourite moments in fiction, but the road there is torturous. That’s to say nothing of the film adaptations, which completely failed to see the point of the novels or capture their tone or unique character. An unfulfilling legacy for such a promising start.

John Green
Author John Green has been producing young adult fiction since 2005, but his popularity peaked in the early to mid 2010s. The overwhelming success of 2012’s The Fault in Our Stars spurred on a huge interest in his work, with numerous other bestsellers in its wake and film adaptations of several novels. Are these novels as good as we all thought they were? They’re fine. The Fault In Our Stars gets by on how earnestly Green writes (the story was inspired by a terminally ill fan of his), but at times it tries too hard to be clever at the expense of emotional effect. Personally, I feel the two gems in Green’s back catalogue are 2010’s Will Grayson, Will Grayson (co-written with David Levithan, both of whom write a different boy called Will Grayson as their lives suddenly become connected) and 2017’s Turtles All the Way Down, a story about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which benefits from Green’s personal struggles with the condition. Avoid all film adaptations of these books like the plague.

Skulduggery Pleasant
This series never got a film adaptation and I’m not even sure if they are even heard of outside of the UK, but I simply have to talk about them. Irish author Derek Landy created a masterpiece in the Skulduggery Pleasant series. Across nine books released from 2007-2014, Landy wove a fantastic world around teenager Stephanie Edgley and her best friend, a detective who also happened to be a sorcerer, a skeleton and over 300 years old. It’s a brilliantly crafted story full of perfectly-pitched humour, astounding characters, dark twists and turns and a plotline that holds up even now that I’m a fair bit older than the intended audience. These books grow up with you in a way that I feel the Harry Potter books never quite achieved. While obviously aimed at a younger/teenaged audience, these books transcend that demographic and make for good reading no matter who you are. Steeped in myth, murder, mystery and mayhem, Skulduggery Pleasant also understands how difficult it is to be a teenager, which it explores superbly.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Stephen Chbosky’s original novel was released in 1999, but a 2012 film adaptation reignited interest in the story. The film version of The Perks of Being a Wallflower is unique in that Chbosky wrote the film himself, which is unheard of in terms of film adaptations. The result is that the film almost feels like an evolution of the story: it’s true to the basic premise, but informed by 13 years of experience in both writing and life. I definitely prefer the film. Not only is it perfectly cast, but it gives the side characters more room to develop and has a more uplifting overall tone. Emblematic of this is the fact the the song the characters listen to while driving through a tunnel – the emotional epicentre of the whole story – is so different between the two. In the book, it’s the slow and tragic “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac. In the film, it’s the triumphant (if still a little bittersweet) “Heroes” by David Bowie. Both are good, but the film is astounding and fits perfectly with the landscape of young adult fiction that it became a part of.

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