9 teen books that need film adaptations, from Man O’ War to What Sunny Saw in the Flames

With the forthcoming release of Judy Blume adaptation ‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret?’, Megan Warren-Lister runs through other Young Adult novels that should be given the big screen treatment

Saturday 29 April 2023 06:45 BST
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Young Adult fiction is not just for teenagers.

The continual stream of big-budget adaptations, including Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl and the recently optioned Lore by Alexandra Bracken, is proof that the category’s appeal extends to audiences far and wide.

The core consumer base is thriving too, and TikTok’s cult hashtag “BookTok’” which has racked up over 23bn views, features thousands of videos curating book recommendations for teenagers.

Among the forthcoming adaptations is Judy Blume’s coming-of-age story, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. The film, starring Rachel McAdams and Kathy Bates, will be released in the UK on 19 May.

Below, The Independent runs through nine other YA novels worthy of a Hollywood adaptation.

One of the Good Ones by Maritza Moulit

Ripe for cinematic acclaim, One of the Good Ones has been marketed as the blend of two existing films: The Hate U Give (an adapted book about the shooting of an Black teenager) and Jordan Peele’s horror thriller Get Out. Written by sisters Maika and Maritza Moulite, the novel pivots on the mysterious death of activist Kezi Smith after a social justice rally. Her surviving sister, Happi, begins to question how her sister is remembered, asking important questions about who we memorialise and why. Do you have to be “good” to be missed? Covering intergenerational trauma and police brutality, One of the Good Ones includes a twist to Kezi’s story that turns everything on its head.

Wonderland by Juno Dawson

With a cover featuring a neon pink LED light in the shape of a bunny, Dawson’s contemporary take on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland reworks Lewis Carroll’s hidden world into a three-day party of hedonistic excess. Dawson’s Alice is cushioned by privilege and luxury, but after her best friend Bunny goes missing, she becomes embroiled in the elite world of Wonderland, while navigating a warped idea of reality thanks to ongoing mental health struggles. Alone and without her medication, the novel is as much about Alice finding herself as it is her companion. Complete with a ruthless foil and socialite queen “Paisley Hart”, this reality-bending exploration of gender, privilege and mental health could make for an interesting big screen interpretation.

The Davenports by Krystal Marquis

An exploration of Black success in the 1900s, The Davenports is inspired by the real-life story of the Patterson family. With immense wealth at a time of extensive national changm the novel follows the journeys of four young Black women, as they each forge different paths through life in America. The eldest Davenport daughter, Olivia, is ready to get married until a charismatic civil rights leader visits town, while the younger Davenport, Helen, has an eye on her sister’s betrothed. Adding to the love triangles are Ruby (Olivia’s best friend), and Amy-Rose (the daughters’ childhood-friend-turned-maid), who are both grappling with crushes on the Davenports’ son, John. An instant New York Times bestseller, Marquis’ debut provides escapism in a world of crystal-chandeliers and servants, while also putting the microscope on an overlooked time in Black history.

Man O’ War by Cory McCarthy

Listed as one of Stonewall’s Honor Books, Man O’War tells the story of an Arab American teen coming of age in a Midwestern town. River doesn’t know why they are unhappy, until they meet Indigo Waits on a school field trip. When the trans teen comes face to face with “Indy”, an affirmed queer person, River begins a years-long journey of self-discovery that includes coming out, and gender transition. A celebration of trans joy and love, McCarthy’s novel would be a welcome addition in a Hollywood largely set on telling heteronormative stories.

‘Man O’War’ by Cory McCarthy

My Flawless Life by Yvonne Woon

Complete with an elitist private school, anonymous calls, and covert investigations, My Flawless Life is a slow-burn thriller about a narrator grappling with hidden truths. Hana Yang Lerner is described as a fixer, hired by her peers to keep secrets at bay, but her own world is upended when her father, a senator, is arrested for an accident that left a woman near-dead. Dropped by her friends and with a reputation in tatters, Hana picks up a job from an anonymous client and begins following her best friend Luce. As she discovers the sinister truth about her supposedly flawless classmates, she’s forced to address a secret of her own.

The Sunbearer Trials by Aiden Thomas

In Thomas’ Mexican-inspired world, 10 teenage semidioses compete in the Sunbearer Trials every decade, with the loser sacrificed to replenish the sun’s powers. All entrants are selected by Sol, who for the first time chooses two “Jade” competitors, including 17-year-old Teo, trans son of the goddess of birds, and Xio, child of the god of bad luck. In the face of unfavourable odds, Teo fights to get himself and his friends through the magical trials unscathed. The immersive world of fantasy is built so intricately that it’s only a matter of time before this one gets snapped up.

What Sunny Saw in the Flames by Nnedi Okorafor

It wouldn’t be a list of YA fiction without some kind of magical coven – and that’s precisely what this novel has to offer. Author Nnedi Okorafor has already secured a deal with HBO to adapt another of her works, Who Fears Death, and What Sunny Saw in the Flames was previously named one of Time’s “100 best fantasy books of all time” (listed with the alternate title of Akata Witch ). The protagonist, 13-year-old Sunny, is grappling with a fractured sense of identity. Born in New York, she lives in Aba, Nigeria. Despite being brilliant at football, her eyes are so sensitive to the sun that she cannot play outside during the day. The resulting isolation threatens to overwhelm Sunny, until she discovers latent magical powers and joins a quartet of magical students. Tasked with tracking down a career criminal by the magic authorities, will their training be enough to help them beat their opponent, whose powers greatly outnumber their own?

‘What Sunny Saw in the Flames’

Promise Boys by Nick Brooks

The Urban Promise Prep School claims its students will be turned into men. Ramon, JB and Trey are told they must follow the prestigious institution’s strict rules if they want to avoid the fates of their neighbourhood peers. More than just a crime novel, Promise Boys offers searing social commentary. The YA mystery follows three teenage boys of colour as they investigate Principal Moore’s murder, in pursuit of their exoneration. While the institution supposedly saves lives, Brooks’ recent release is a thriller that exposes how our systems too often condemn Black and Latinx boys to failure.

The Great Godden by Meg Rosoff

The Great Godden, a coming-of-age tale that has been compared to summer classic Bonjour Tristesse, with the freshness of Normal People, tells the story of one family the summer everything changes. Set in a seaside holiday home, the teenage narrator watches as brothers, sisters, parents and cousins spend hot days filled with wine, games and wedding planning. But when brothers Kit and Hugo Godden arrive, the demise of the perceived paradise begins, with devastating consequences.

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