With the news that the movie rights to Rainbow Rowell’s stealth young adult hit Eleanor and Park got picked up by a big studio like Dreamworks, it’s time to start paying attention to a new trend of young adult adaptations of realistic teen stories. After all, these books take teen concerns seriously with a tone that hasn’t been seen since the heyday of John Hughes.
While the most recent Young Adult boom in publishing and movies started with vampires and moved onto dystopia, all along, excellent young adult novels that take teens’ lives and problems seriously have been publishing as well; they’re just not going to get the same hype as the legions of Twilight and Hunger Games ripoffs. And besides, supernatural and sci-fi stuff is just a metaphor for deep teen feelings anyway.
But these realistic books, and their inevitable film adaptations, have the potential to have more of a lasting effect than the march of YA-come-lately flops at the theater. (With one exception: sure, Divergent made its money, but have you heard anyone actually talking about it?) People are evangelical about the way that something like Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower — a cult hit since its release in 1999 — changed their lives. Rainbow Rowell is a Tumblr superstar, and on top of it, her last book was called Fangirl and is terrifically savvy about web culture, inspiring loads of fan art. And don’t even get me started about John Green’s Internet army, as it’s going to make the adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars, due this summer with Shailene Woodley, a “surprise” hit if it’s any good. An adaptation of Gayle Forman’s weepie about comas and music starring Chloe Grace Moretz, If I Say, is in the cards for August. Books like these are passed around like a secret, getting fans and admiration through word of mouth, a powerful tool.
The thing with realistic teen movies is that they may not be a straight-out-of-the-gate blockbuster, but they’re going to reward audience building and repeat viewing. Look at the greatest teen movie of all time, Titanic, a success that hinged upon weeping teen girls watching it eight to ten times in the theater. Teens, particularly teen girls, are not taken seriously as consumers, even though when they consume things, they do so with an ardent love that can make the scrawniest Canadian YouTuber into a big star.
As the power of the Hunger Games wanes in publishing and on the screen — insofar as there are only two films left, and what else is there to say about this concept? — there is a space in the market for real teen films, and the audience is already proven through the love of these books. These adaptations have all the potential to be stealth successes, and I suspect paying attention to real teens’ lives and worries may just be the next big trend, at least on the big screen.