Charlie Jane Anders posted a brief but intriguing piece recently at io9 (based on a Wall Street Journal article) that speculates on the possible end of the current young adult book boom. The film and book industry that serves the YA audience seems to be collectively holding its breath in anticipation of Divergent‘s performance this upcoming weekend. In Ms Anders words:
“Studios are hoping it’ll show there are still audiences for young-adult films other than Hunger Games, after the dismal performance of several other films.”
She goes on to cite fatigue over the similarities between different YA books and movies as one of the causes of the seemingly receding YA market.
“…studios are getting wary of novels that feel too much like cookie-cutter copies of other stuff. Especially Twilight clones.”
This argument resonates with me because as a lifelong reader of genre, I’m sensitive to the difference between the artful use of common genre conventions—like a dystopian society under the thumb of an oppressive government—and the recycling of tired clichés because they moved product previously—like the Romeo & Juliet combinations referenced in Ms Anders’ post.
Ms Anders also provides a couple examples of new, more literary sources, as potentially a positive direction for producers, including The Giver, but doesn’t encourage a lot of enthusiasm.
“…the larger problem remains—in books as well as in movies, there’s no ‘mega franchise’ to replace Hunger Games, Twilight and Harry Potter among the tween and teen crowd. At least, not yet. Maybe that book is being written as we speak.”
I really like that last hopeful note. The image of someone toiling away somewhere in—what I imagine to be—a cramped, drafty space, maybe at night after a day job, to produce the next big hit is heartening. Because whatever feelings I might have about the relative literary merit of books like Twilight, any “mega franchise” that drives young people to seek out other reading options is a boon to book culture at large.
During the last book sale we attended, I was surprised at the number of young readers who came to our booth. Several were looking for Twilight and The Hunger Games or something very similar, sure, but also many of them were exploring genre books in different directions, as a result of having read those books already—some of whom even had a more than passing interest in true classics.
I guess my point is that we maybe should all be crossing our fingers that Divergent is successful this weekend, leading more young readers to the book, and hopefully on to other books.