10 YA Novel to Film Adaptations That Kept Their Edge

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The Perks of Being A Wallflower, the film adaptation of the ’90s cult young adult novel by Stephen Chbosky, is out in wide release today, and we couldn’t be more excited. While some of its critics are saying the film packs in more issues then the entire canon of after school specials, no one is accusing it of shying away from the dicier topics that made the novel so relatable to its teenage readers. This, unfortunately, is not always the case for adaptations of classic YA books — The Princess Diaries, for example, was totally Disney-fied, much to our chagrin. To inform your viewing, here are some other movies based on YA books that managed to keep their edge.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower , Stephen Chbosky

Perhaps it’s because the film was both written and directed by Chbosky himself, but it sticks pretty close to the book, and the result is a labor of love that doesn’t shy away from the realities — sexuality, drugs, unrequited longing, mixtapes — of being a teenager. Maybe it’s because we’re older now, but we almost found watching the story unfold on the big screen a more intense and upsetting experience than reading the book — in a good way. In fact, it was originally given an R rating and had to appeal the verdict to secure a more teen-friendly PG-13.

The Outsiders , S.E. Hinton

Some would debate how much edge S.E. Hinton’s classic novel had to begin with. Yes, it features a fatal stabbing, a large-scale gang fight, and the general feeling that its young characters could break out a weapon at any time, but it also has a protagonist reciting poetry and holding a Gone with the Wind story time. Still, by the end of the film, three teens have met violent ends, a pretty high body count for teen flick outside of the slasher section.

Speak , Laurie Halse Anderson

This made-for-TV movie didn’t shy away from the subject that made Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel so powerful; not only is its fourteen-year-old protagonist raped at a house party, but after her shaky call to the cops brings out a swarm of police ready to bust the underage drinkers, she becomes completely ostracized by her former friends and new classmates. A pre-Twilight Kristen Stewart plays the part perfectly, capturing the pain, isolation, and confusion of a teen with a serious secret and no one to talk to.

It’s Kind of A Funny Story , Ned Vizzini

Any novel or movie that starts with a high schooler’s attempted suicide is bound to be dark, though the semi-autobiographical book by Ned Vizzini is more hopeful than you might expect. The film wraps up almost too neatly for all the issues it raises about mental illness, but like the book, it tempers its happy ending with the reminder that a stay in the psych ward didn’t erase the protagonist’s problems, just gave him the tools to deal with them.

The Hunger Games , Suzanne Collins

While it could be said the quick shots purposefully kept the gore off-screen in the adaptation of the first book in Suzanne Collins trilogy, the audience was still made painfully aware that children were dying at the hands of children. Even more important to the film’s edge was its portrayal of Katniss, and the movie succeeded in keeping her an incredibly strong, stoic protagonist.

Rumble Fish , S.E. Hinton

Another film based on a S.E. Hinton novel, this movie has much of the same violence tempered with poetic ideas, though this time the love of literature in a seemingly tough main character is replaced with a love and respect for animals. Like The Outsiders, the film ends on a slightly hopeful, yet bloody note.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants I and II , Ann Brashares

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants didn’t have much of an edge to begin with, but the kind of topics that could get it placed on the banned book table, like suicide and teen sex, remained intact in the film version. Its sequel stepped things up with a pregnancy scare and even more attention given to the suicide of one girl’s mother. While both films are essentially sleepover movies, they do a good job at handling the material they have.

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist , David Levithan

The 2008 adaptation of this novel, about two teens running around Manhattan and eventually falling for each other, didn’t shy away from anything showing teens drinking, having sex, and making all around poor decisions. Plus, maybe it’s just all the Kat Dennings, but this film definitely felt as cool as the book — we bought it hook, line and sinker.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Parts I and II , J.K. Rowling

While most critics say the Potter films started getting an edge with The Prisoner of Azkaban (and the advent of director Alfonso Cuarón instead of Chris Columbus), the series’ final two films truly amped up the dark mood, in keeping with the books. The adaptations made no attempt to gloss over the deaths the main characters witnessed or the weight of the responsibility they faced. They were so heavy at times that it was easy to forget you were watching teenagers.

Youth in Revolt , C.D. Payne

It’s hard to believe a film carried by Michael Cera could have much edge to speak of, but it turns out all it takes to turn Mr. Cera into an arsonist and ladies man is a pencil mustache. This movie was able to retain the book’s sweetness about first love without sacrificing its edgier content.