Oh, the dreaded book-to-movie adaptation. It’s something Hollywood always tries to do, as they desperately try to convert the die-hard book fans into die-hard moviegoers, but it always seems to flop. There are some notable exceptions of course, but you’ll never get a film to please them all, it just won’t happen. That’s why I’m quite nervous about this Friday, Feb. 28, when my all-time favorite book “All the Bright Places” gets its own movie adaptation. I have time to prepare myself for disappointment, and during that time I’ll be using it to re-read this perfect book and all the books like it. So, if you’re looking for a good list of fantastic young adult reads with strong, memorable characters that seem to stand out from the page, here you are!
1: “All the Bright Places” by Jennifer Niven
Before I get into it, this book is full of lots of triggers and things that I would look up if that’s something you’re worried about, but if not, then this is a really easy place to start on my list. Read this book. Just do it. It’s my favorite book ever. I’ve read it around 30 times as I can’t ever seem to not discover something new about it. My multiple copies are destroyed at this point, the notes in the margins and Post-It notes make it look as though I’m writing a thesis and not reading a young adult book, but whatever. You’ll meet two fantastic characters, Theodore Finch and Violet Markey, who both want to escape their small town and all the terrible people in it, but they want to escape for different reasons. Theodore, who goes by the name “Finch,” wants to escape because he’s bullied quite terribly in school and the way his brain works seems to not match any of his peers. Violet, however, wants to leave and go to school at New York University after the death of her sister, Eleanor, the year before. Before her sister’s death, Violet was not the type of girl who’d find her way anywhere near someone as odd as Finch. But, through a school project, they’re partnered together to discover more about their home state of Indiana in a series of what Finch calls “Wanderings.” Through this project, they become closer, and change and grow in unforeseen ways. Niven shows us the magic of the little hidden things in everyday life, as “We remember do not remember days, we remember moments,” and it’s those moments all placed together that gives everything meaning.
2: “Normal People” by Sally Rooney
This book was on everyone’s “Best Summer Reads” list the summer of 2019, and is also being adapted into screen form by the BBC, which will be available to watch on Hulu in April of 2020, so it fits right in here! It follows a couple of decades of romance and friendship between two characters, Connell and Marianne, in Ireland. In high school, they lived in two different worlds as Marianne was a member of one of the wealthiest families in town, while Connell’s mother was a housekeeper in her home. Marianne was a bit of an outcast, while Connell fit right in and though they knew each other outside of school, Connell would make sure never to talk or mention Marianne at school. After graduation, they end up at the same college and their relationship continues and spreads into the sphere of romance. Yet life isn’t easy for these two and their relationship is never the most important thing in their lives, as finding happiness in ways other than each other becomes the most important thing and they can never really get the timing right. It’s a phenomenal book, yet a bit quirky. There are no quotation marks used to indicate something being said, even if something is being said. I had never seen this before, so it does take a little bit of getting used to it. There’s also quite jarring time jumps throughout the novel, as it’s told through decades of friendship. You’ll be seeing them together in college and then all of a sudden years have passed and they’re visiting each other somewhere else. But, I don’t see this as a negative point, and instead a narrative technique to make the story more realistic and filled with all this natural depth that exists between people in real life.
3: “I’ll Give You the Sun” by Jandy Nelson
We’re moving back to the young adult sphere with this one and away from the romance seen in my above two picks. This book plays more with the dynamic between a set of twins, a brother and sister named Noah and Jude, and how they grew up together, but then grew apart as they matured. What’s incredibly interesting about this book is the perspective switch, and the first person narration. The early years, when the twins are closer and they can seemingly read each other’s minds, are told from Noah’s perspective. But, as the twins separated and don’t speak to each other, mainly through Noah’s desire, we only hear Jude’s perspective. When writing in first-person, authors seem to have the need to shove narration down our throats that begins to feel forced and unneeded. “I’ll Give You the Sun” almost never does that and only gives us information that is pertinent to our understanding. This allows us to read and discover at the same pace as the two characters and gives us our own role in the story, one that is a beautiful message about the strength of the relationship between siblings, forgiveness and grief. If this movie isn’t in the works to be a movie adaptation, I’d give it a year, we’ll be seeing it in theatres soon enough!