YA Books to Film: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Young Adult books are all the rage lately to make into theater movies and TV shows. They’re HUGELY popular (“Hunger Games”, anyone?) and teens are clamoring for more … mostly. There are the ones that tank, and there’s a big reason why: the story in the movie or show straying too far from the book’s plotline.

The Good:

Sometimes they do a decent job. Obviously, they can’t pack everything from the books into a movie, even when they break it into two pieces, so we shouldn’t be too critical.

For instance, I think they did a good job with the Hunger Games trilogy.

hungergamesposterSure, I missed some of the secondary characters like Madge and it’s true Peeta didn’t lose his leg, and the cat changed from black and white in the first movie (wrong!) to orange in the last ones (right!). I always pictured Haymitch fatter and Wiress dingier and not as childlike as she was… but those are all nit-picky things.

Fact is, they held to the heart of the story. The bones were all there, even if the skeleton was missing a few of the less important ones. The movies were solid enough and close enough to the books to satisfy most people. And one thing in the movie — the ship with Effie and Haymitch — wasn’t in the books. But, according to my teen daughter, she’s glad that ship sailed.

the-shannara-chronicles-posterAlso recently, MTV did a mini-series based on The Elfstones of Shannara. This is actually a book I read as a teen. My kid hadn’t even heard of it, but liked the idea, so we watched it.

It’s been awhile since I read the book, though I very clearly remembered the end because it upset me terribly. However, I re-read it after watching the show and I think they did a decent job … right up until the end. Yes, the traumatic thing that happened in the book still happened, but they ended with one of the characters in peril and Will heading out to save her. I think they did it so next season has the same characters, but in the books, their story was ended. So … that was frustrating. Still, all-in-all not a horrible adaptation.

The Bad:

The Mortal Instruments

mortal_instruments_city_of_bones_ver11So … these books are hugely popular. Several years ago, there was a movie made based on City of Bones and it was horrible. The casting was bad (Alec should have been younger, Isabel should have been taller, Valentine should have been older…) and the story omitted some very important characters. They made it into some odd love story between Jace and Clary, which honestly ended up being a little creepy. Jace came across as a creepy stalker and Clary was incredibly stupid in the movie.

shadowhuntersNow, years later, there is a new TV show being made based on them called ShadowHunters. The author has said she’s going to change some things in the storyline so readers won’t always know what to expect. And they have changed some things. But, the show is certainly better done than the movie was. No, it’s not perfect, and some of the casting is weird (though I think they got Jace and Clary pretty close and that’s really the biggest thing). The Mortal Instruments is pretty diverse, but the show has turned things on their heads. Yes, it’s still diverse but characters that were latino in the book are white, white ones are black and so on. I don’t suppose it makes that much of a difference, but I don’t understand why they did it when the books’ characters were already pretty “colorful”.

The Ugly:

The Divergent Series:

divergentOkay … the first movie was pretty decent. Like Hunger Games some things were left out, but the meat of the plot worked. Yeah, Four was “security” instead of working IT so they had to give him a different way to figure things out and a different way for him to be used at the end. And, yeah, Edward just sort of disappears from the story. One minute he’s there, topping the board and the next we never hear of him again. IMHO, it matters that he joins the factionless … but … it wasn’t a deal breaker.

Then came Insurgent. And here’s where it got ugly. “The Box” was the be all, end all of the story. When I saw the previews I looked at my kid. “What box?” She shrugged. There’s not a locked box anywhere in the book. And the story totally went off the rails. I left the movie feeling a little shell-shocked. They were so focused on the flash of the filming, the entire plot changed. And it mattered to the fans who’d flocked to see the movie. Because they didn’t flock to the next one … Allegiant was a flop. Worse, as Hollywood is apparently wont to do, they broke the final book into two movies. And now there is discussion as to whether part two will be made and released theatrically. Or if it’ll end up a TV movie. Or maybe even straight to DVD. And some of the stars are talking about not participating. It’s a hot mess, people. Hollywood screen writers should learn a lesson from this: DON’T MESS WITH THE STORY.

There are others we could talk about, too, and I’d love YOUR input. What did you think about the Harry Potter movies? Or The Maze Runner, The Giver, The Fifth Wave, The Lightning Thief or other teen book to movie adaptations? I’d love to discuss it with you! Leave me a comment and let’s talk.


  1. Unfortunately, I didn’t read or watch The Hunger Games. My husband loved the movies.

    I read a lot of YA but I don’t typically watch the movies of any book adaptation. They usually get it wrong.

    One book, in particular, is The Firm by John Grisham. Book…awesome. The movie…terrible. That’s when I stopped either reading or watching the book/movie.


    • I remember watching “The Firm” before I read the movie and being utterly confused… then I read the book. What a difference!

      I actually like to watch the movie *before* I read the book if I can. I enjoy the movie more that way. And you really should at least watch the Hunger Games (though the books were so much better). They’re really good.

      • The Hunger Games movies were really good, but I agree the books were definitely better, especially comparing the first book to the first movie. There were some details left out that I think made the movie a bit confusing, especially concerning some characters and their connections.

  2. I had mixed feelings about The Giver. I really disliked the fact that they made Jonas 18 instead of 12 like he was in the book. A lot of his reactions to the dark side of his community made a lot more sense with a younger and more innocent version of this character. They felt out of place for a 18 year old.

    With that being said, I did like how the filmmakers handled the story’s message about eugenics. The scenes about the people who were sent “elsewhere” were every bit as horrifying as it was when Jonas realized they were actually being murdered in the book.

    The best young adult book I’ve ever seen translated to film was The Princess Bride. All of the characters and settings were exactly how I imagined them to be!

    • I thought they did a pretty decent job on The Giver. I love the book and have read it several times. The age difference didn’t really bother me. Jonas’ reactions might have been out of place for an 18 year old in our world, but I don’t think they were out of place for someone that age in his world given the way everything was controlled.

      You’re right, the movie did a great job of making “elsewhere” and the truth about it just as horrifying as the book. It still gives me chills when I think about it!

      I love The Princess Bride movie, but I’ve never read the book. I’ll have to add it to my list.

  3. Honeysuckle says:

    The Percy Jackson movies would definitely have to fall into “the ugly” category for me. It’s like they were so unsure that they would be making a second movie that they tried to wrap up the end by giving away the second book surprise. I really wanted these to be good because I loved the series.

  4. I think it all depends on who’s filming the movies. I’m not a Harry Potter fan and never have been, but from what I’ve read and seen, the directors were pretty faithful to the novels.

    Thing is, as you mentioned, you can’t get every detail from the novel and stick it in the movie. It may slow down the action, may distract the viewer, or may simply not be needed. This is where the director’s ‘vision’ is necessary–and where it may bomb out as well.

    As for the adaptions listed in the article (and it was a good article) I’d have to agree with Honeysuckle’s assessment of the Percy Jackson movies. The first one was okay, but rushed, and seemed as though everyone was trying too hard to get their characters right. The sequel sucked…one of the few flicks I’ve ever walked out on. I don’t know if there was a third, but if there is…not interested.

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