Yup, YA is definitely having a moment — or, rather, 90 minutes, since it’s been a de facto breeding ground for blockbuster films these past few years.
Still, there are a lot of kids out there that aren’t seeing themselves splashed across the silver screen — or on the pages that inspired those films.
The lack of diversity in media isn’t a new topic by any means, but, recently, YA authors and industry folk alike have been calling for more variation when it comes to books for teens and their ensuing films.
MTV News spoke with a cadre of authors who support the ethos of that campaign, asking them which diverse books they want to see turned into movies right now — so that all kids, no matter their race or sexual orientation, will be able to see themselves in the flickering pitch black.
“Cruise ship-meets-every natural disaster you can think of. It already reads like a movie! It’s a past-paced page-turner that leaves you breathless until the very end. Get the right casting for Shy and Hollywood, you got yourself the next blockbuster hit!” — Ellen Oh, “The Dragon King Chronicles”
“Two strong, smart girls, a warrior and a sage, go on a dangerous quest and fall in love … with each other. I don’t even have to add in the incredible world-building and action-packed sequences to get you interested, right?” — Ellen Oh
“In ‘Pointe’ we meet Theo, one of the bravest and strongest girl characters I’ve connected with in a long time — even though she’s broken on the inside. She’s made bad decisions and she’s suffered for them, but she is the epitome of a survivor. This book has to be made into a movie because it deals brilliantly with issues of teenage vulnerability and consent. And also because it made me cry like a baby.” — Ellen Oh
“‘The Odyssey’-meets-five Mexican-American sisters and a dead guy. OK, that tagline doesn’t do it justice! The supernatural parts come from Mexican folklore and mythology — like a sorceress who is a shape-shifting donkey (nagual) and vampiric chupacabras. But the core of the story is the bonds of sisterly love and family that are absolutely universal.” — Ellen Oh
“I really want Guillermo del Toro to produce this book because only he can do justice to the many horrifying monsters that populate ‘Silver Phoenix.’ Some of those monsters gave me nightmares! Filled with Chinese legends and a kick-butt girl main character, ‘Silver Phoenix’ takes you on an action-filled road through fantasy China that is absolutely thrilling. Also the food scenes. Must film the mouth-watering food scenes!” — Ellen Oh
“‘The Unnaturalists’ by Tiffany Trent is an intelligent, lively steampunk fantasy where some of the characters might be taken as Romany at first but are actually based on a Tibetan ethnic minority — the Baima of the Sichuan highlands of the People’s Republic of China, or Duobo, as they call themselves. Vespa Nyx wants to spend her life cataloging unnaturals in her father’s museum, but the duties of a young lady are increasingly being thrust upon her.
“When she rebels, she finds her fate entwined with that of Syrus Reed, a Tinker boy whose clan has been captured to work in the refinery as slaves. Together, they discover that the city they know is not what they thought it was, and they must save the unnaturals or their world is doomed. The steampunk setting would allow for wonderful sets and costumes, and the array of fantasy creatures featured would allow the filmmaker to expand the diverse faces beyond the Asian. There’s now a sequel out, so a successful movie would mean a franchise was possible.” — Annette Curtis Klause, “Blood and Chocolate”
“‘The Chaos’ by Nalo Hopkinson mixes fantasy and Caribbean folklore and has a protagonist whose father is a white Jamaican and mother is a black Canadian. The popularity of epic science fiction disaster movies makes this a natural. As a mixed race girl, Scotch feels she doesn’t fit in already, but then she develops visions and black sticky spots on her body that are spreading.
“On a night out with her brother, a bubble of light appears. Scotch dares him to touch it, he does, and he disappears. Shortly after a volcano appears in Lake Ontario and Toronto is invaded by The Chaos. How can Scotch find her brother in a city where mythical creatures walk the streets and she is becoming unrecognizable? There’s plenty of action and visual interest here, as well as a story about identity and self-acceptance.” — Annette Curtis Klause
“I would like to also point out that my book ‘Freaks: Alive, on the Inside!’ is chock-full of characters with physical differences, as well as people from different backgrounds and races, including African-Americans and even an Ancient Egyptian mummy. Abel Dandy lives in a community of show folk who are talented and different. Even his parents have an act — his armless mother pedals a bicycle, while his legless father steers it.
“Abel feels so pathetically normal. He leaves home because he wants to find a place where he can excel on his own terms, but when he is thrown out of the circus as a dirty freak-lover, he finds himself with a traveling show whose abused and captive performers, including kidnapped children, need him desperately.” — Annette Curtis Klause
“Raw and emotionally honest, Booth paints a clear picture of Kendra and the complicated relationships in her life in the Bronx — including the mother who had her at 14 and the strict grandmother who’s determined to ensure Kendra doesn’t follow this same path. Though difficult to read at times, the gritty realities of the book would tell a compelling story on film, and illustrate the unique portrayal of a teen mom’s child as a teenager herself.” — Brandy Colbert, “Pointe”
“This book is a love letter to filmmaking and Los Angeles, and I couldn’t help but think about how well the story would translate to film as I read it. But more importantly, it features a lesbian love story that isn’t about coming out; the romance in the book is subtle but powerful, and serves as a gentle reminder that all teens should see themselves reflected in all types of love stories.” — Brandy Colbert
“Everything by Mr. Stork is great, but I love the nuanced friendship between Pancho and D.Q., and I’d love to see Pancho’s ultimate dilemma — whether or not to avenge his sister’s death — played out on the big screen.” — Matt de la Peña, “The Living”
“A smart, ‘X-Files’-inspired thriller with a bisexual love triangle, written by one of the biggest champions of diversity in literature.” — Matt de la Peña
“One of my all-time favorite YA stories. Sammy and Juliana are nuanced characters. The story explores love and loss and classism, and I’d love to see it come alive on the big screen.” — Matt de la Peña
“I think this graphic novel is brilliant, and I’d love to see the three totally different narratives that drive the story rendered cinematically.” — Matt de la Peña
“An exciting sci-fi-dystopic hybrid featuring a half Puerto Rican, half Jewish protagonist who owns his sexual preference — though he has bigger worries than ‘coming out.’ This relentless novel focuses on technology and debt and teens overthrowing the government.” — Matt de la Peña
“I think this dense, ambitious novel would make an amazing movie. I’d love to see how a director would tackle the two different narratives, one of which takes place in modern-day New Jersey, while the other is set in the Dominican Republic during the brutal dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo.” — Matt de la Peña
“An exhilarating, high-concept novel with lots of action and surprising plot twists. The main character is half Mongolian, and I’d love to see this portrayed on the big screen.” — Matt de la Peña
“I loved ‘A Wish After Midnight’ and could not, for the life of me, understand why Elliott had such a hard time getting it published. Because no one would publish it after years of submitting, Elliott published the novel herself and promoted it herself. If I remember correctly, one of the primary reasons — given by agents, editors and publishers — for not acquiring the manuscript, was that it was too much like Octavia Butler’s time-travel novel, ‘Kindred.’
“Excuse me, but WTF???
“Why wouldn’t someone publish a novel that was a lot like ‘Kindred’? Not to mention the fact that there are, maybe, a hundred gazillion novels on the shelves along the same lines as ‘Twilight’ or ‘Gossip Girl’? I received the same sort of non-reasons when I was shopping all of my novels around. Editors and publishers said they had already published an ‘Asian’ novel and didn’t need another one. One editor, each time I submitted a new novel, said they had published a novel like mine (they had published one Indian-American novel, 10 years before) and it did well, so they didn’t need another one. Imagine having two different Indian-American authors in one catalog!” — Neesha Meminger, “Shine, Coconut Moon”
“[This book is a] non-fiction account of the 50 African American sailors who protested against unsafe work conditions after the Port Chicago disaster in 1944 that killed over 300 people. It’s about an amazing event in American naval history that happened right here in the San Francisco Bay Area, yet not many people know about it.” — Stephanie Kuehn, “Charm & Strange”
“‘The Summer Prince’ is set in a futuristic Brazil, where aspiring artist June Costa has her sights set on fame. But when she and her best friend both fall for the doomed Summer King Enki, she becomes part of something bigger than art: a rebellion that will change the future of her city. Packed with high-stakes love, richly imagined technology, and unbelievable imagery, ‘The Summer Prince’ begs for big-screen treatment.” — Sarah McCarry, “All Our Pretty Songs”
“Delta fever is in the blood, it’s in the water — and it’s in the heart of Orleans. Orleans is supposed to be a ghost town, a casualty of a series of global-warming induced super storms. It lost its ‘New’ when the government of the Outer States walled off the fever-endemic Delta in a permanent quarantine. For the last 50 years, the inhabitants of Orleans have separated themselves into blood-type based tribes to survive. Fen de la Guerre is O+ and tough as being born in Orleans can make her.
Her ferocity, loyalty and tenderness make her a compelling character on the page, and I can only imagine how a talented young actress like Zoe Kravitz or Amandla Stenberg could bring her to life on screen. The story is tight and tense, focusing on Fen and her two charges: a naive government scientist determined to find a cure, and a newborn infant Fen will do anything to protect. Over the course of five days, they struggle to safety through the innumerable dangers of this lost city. Think ‘Children of Men’ and ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ and 2001 and District 9 mixed together with some truly stunning post-apocalyptic visuals, and you get a hint of how great this would look onscreen. Paging Alfonso Cuarón?” — Alaya Johnson, “The Summer Prince”