Top 10 YA Books That Should Be Adapted for Film


There seems to be a flaw in the human brain when it comes to film adaptations of books. I say this because movies rarely, if ever, turn out to be better than their literary source material. And yet, every time I finish an amazing novel, I immediately start praying that it will be made into a film. Seriously, brain, what's up with that?

Well, when it comes to love, I guess I can't be rational, and I'm smitten with these books. The idea of getting to experience them again, in a different if inferior way, still ridiculously excites me, so Hollywood, I hope you're paying attention.


'Incarceron' by Catherine Fisher

I'd see this movie for the visuals alone, although the plot is equally as thrilling. For as long as he can remember, 17-year-old Finn has struggled to survive in Incarceron, a vast prison teeming with wild tribes and dangerous criminals. There are no cells, just a limitless, dark expanse. And there are no guards, just the prison itself, which monitors, controls and tortures its inhabitants with an increasingly human sense of cruelty. When Finn comes into possession of a mysterious crystal key, he and his blood brother, Keiro, begin a quest to follow in the footsteps of Sapphique, the only man to have ever escaped from Incarceron. Just as the outside world is a mystery to Finn, Incarceron is a haunting enigma to Claudia, the prison warden's daughter, who dreams of escaping the suffocating structure of society as well as her arranged marriage. Fisher's epic world-building and her knack for heart-stopping action make this book a perfect match for the film genre, and I'm not the only one who thinks so. Taylor Lautner, originally slated to star in the movie, apparently dropped out, which is good news for fans of the book (because Finn deserves better) but bad news for production of the movie, which sadly might never happen.


'The Knife of Never Letting Go' by Patrick Ness

If you're tired of hearing about the greatness of this book, then you obviously haven't read it yet. Seriously! Read it! Immediately! If you need a synopsis, check out my YA Primer, but the bottom line is that this book- the entire trilogy, actually-- is amazing, and the film adaptation might blow The Hunger Games totally out of the water. The story is so creative, so deeply compelling, that I initially feared Hollywood would flatten it into mediocrity. But now that we know Charlie Kaufman is adapting the script, I'm totally frothing at the mouth with anticipation over seeing my beloved Todd fight the awesomely evil Mayor Prentiss, mysterious aliens and his own inner demons on the silver screen.


'Graceling' by Kristin Cashore

Sure, Katniss Everdeen was a marked improvement over the lame-o Bella Swan, but Katsa, the heroine of Graceling, is far and above the most badass heroine in YA literature. She's graced (the fantasy version of a mutant power) with the ability to kill, which means she's the most fearsome warrior in all seven kingdoms of Cashore's gorgeously crafted world. Unfortunately, she's controlled by a totally creepy and insane king, but in between assassination assignments, Katsa fights for justice and peace with the help of a secret council. Not only would the battle scenes be jaw-dropping on film, the vividly colorful characters are itching to be inhabited by skilled actors, and the romance between Katsa and the charming but deadly Prince Po would threaten to melt every piece of underwear in the theater.


'Beauty Queens' by Libba Bray

I have no doubt that this book would make a ridiculously entertaining movie, but first I have to find someone brave enough to pitch it to a room of Hollywood executives. I can picture it now: "So, the story begins when a plane carrying a group of beauty pageant contestants crash lands onto a deserted island. No, it's not like Lost. Because, see, the beauty queens are actually pawns in an arms conspiracy planned by slightly fictionalized versions of Sarah Palin and Kim Jong-Il, and-- no, I'm serious, this is what the book is about-- and the girls realize they can't just rely on their pageant skills if they want to survive, although beauty tips do come in handy. Oh also, there's pirates." On second thought, how could Hollywood execs NOT go for that?


'The Jessica Darling Series' by Megan McCafferty

Although there will never be another John Hughes, I feel like I've been waiting 20 years for someone to carry on his legacy. This generation needs its own Samantha Baker, Duckie and John Bender, and Megan McCafferty is ready to give it to them. In Sloppy Firsts, the beginning of the series, we meet Jessica, an intelligent, self-absorbed angsty teenager with a razor-sharp wit who wants to get the hell out of Pineville, NJ. Over the course of five books, Jessica makes a billion mistakes, fixes some of them, falls in love with a sex god named Marcus Flutie, makes some of the same mistakes again, and somehow maybe kinda becomes an adult. I always try to avoid reading these books in public, because they make me laugh in a highly indecent manner, so it would be a relief to guffaw along with a theatrical audience so I seem less like a crazy person. Jessica is wonderfully flawed, and I have the feeling that if Hollywood gave her a shot, she would easily secure her place in the annals of teen cinema, right between the Heathers (who would maintain a safe distance) and Lloyd Dobler (who would totally crush on her).


'Daughter of Smoke and Bone' by Laini Taylor

There are certain authors who I suspect of using magic, and Laini Taylor is one of them. How else do you explain the potent beauty of her prose and the fanciful characters who dance across her pages? Even though film has the advantage of moving images, it still might be tough to compete with the magnificent descriptions of Prague, the city where a blue-haired girl named Karou lives, and the other parts of the world she visits to collect teeth for Brimstone, the crochety demon who raised her. Still, I'd love to see someone try, because this stunning story of wishes, angel and demon warfare, and past lives seems like it might burst from its book binding any minute, and perhaps the big screen might be strong enough to handle it.


'The Apothecary' by Maile Meloy

Set in 1952, The Apothecary follows the dashing adventures of Janie Scott, who has recently moved to London after her filmmaking parents were blacklisted in Hollywood. Intrigued by classmate and wannabe spy Benjamin Burrows, Janie suddenly finds herself at the center of an international conspiracy involving atom bombs, invisibility elixirs and a charming pickpocket named Pip. This old fashioned romp is the stuff of my childhood dreams, and it would make a grandly charming film in the vein of Hugo, the kind of movie that will mesmerize adults and kids alike.


'Inside the Shadow City' by Kirsten Miller

It might not be possible to make this film, since I'm pretty sure no one alive is cool enough to play Kiki Strike, the tiny, white-haired teenage leader of an intrepid band of girls known as The Irregulars. Kiki is a martial arts expert, a master of disguise and happens to be allergic to everything except for cafe au lait. In the first book of what I fear is a short-lived series (third book, where are you?), Kiki befriends Ananka Fishbein, who goes from average girl to brave explorer when she's taken into the Shadow City, a series of tunnels underneath Manhattan. Each marvelous caper ends with an important Irregular lesson, like how to detect if someone is lying or how to plan the best escape route, and it's the kind of material that an inventive director (say, Edgar Wright) would have a field day adapting.


'The Scorpio Races' by Maggie Stiefvater

This book has some serious Oscar potential, you guys. And not just because it has horses in it. In fact, this ain't no Sea Biscuit. These horses, known as Capall Uisce, live in the ocean and come out once a year on the beaches of Thisby to hunt for food. And occasionally kill humans. In turn, some brave (or stupid, depending on how you look at it) humans trap the horses and train them to compete in the Scorpio Races, a wild and deadly competition. The spirited, downright stubborn Puck Connelly enters the race because she needs the money to save her family's home, while strong and silent Sean Kendrick races because it's in his blood. It's a violent, epic tale of tradition, passion and family, and I predict that theater audiences will alternate between frenzied fist pumping and crying into their popcorn.


'Divergent' by Veronica Roth

I raved about this dystopian tour de force in my YA Primer, and I can't wait to see Beatrice Prior kick some serious ass on the big screen. This story is begging for a movie (and it better be R-rated), from the numerous speeding train jumps to the punk rock Dauntless lair to the zip line from the Sears Tower. (Somewhere, a special effects artist just drooled.) And it's not just about the action. The roles are meaty, and I predict a major internet debate over who should be cast as Four, the dead sexy fighting instructor. Robert Pattinson, don't even THINK about it.


Sarah Pitre

Column by Sarah Pitre

Sarah lives in Austin, TX, where she programs screenings at the Alamo Drafthouse and coordinates events at The Highball, a playground for adults. Tired of feeling like a creepy old lady in the bookstore YA section, she created Forever Young Adult to provide grown-ups with a community where they can gush about young adult literature without shame. In addition to crushing on fictional teenage boys, Sarah enjoys fancy cocktails, dance parties and macaroni and cheese.

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Pau Ojeda's picture
Pau Ojeda from Monterrey, México is reading Anna Karenina May 31, 2012 - 1:00pm

Where's The Book Thief? Just sayin'.

misskokamon's picture
misskokamon from San Francisco is reading The Moonlit Mind May 31, 2012 - 1:30pm

I think Happenstance Found, as well as the other books in the series, would make awesome films if done right. They'd need a director that wasn't afraid to inject their own style, and they'd need a studio that wasn't Summit Entertainment cheap and dumb.

I'm a fan of movies-based-on-books that have a visual style the books themselves were incapable of producing, yet when you see it, it feels like that style was secretly in the books all along. I'm not sure if that makes any sense, but think about Burton's style, or Scorsese. Think about The Lovely Bones movie versus the book. Films that can stand on their own -- that don't need to rely on the memory of the novel from which they're born. That's what I like, and YA has so much potential for that. So, Books of Umber/Happenstance Found would be a lot of fun.


Chester Pane's picture
Chester Pane from Portland, Oregon is reading The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz May 31, 2012 - 1:37pm

Uh, yeah. Book Thief!

Love the Apothecary and I have the hots for Maile.


  • Feed by M.T. Anderson
  • Abarat by Clive Barker
  • Paper Towns by John Green
  • The Roar by Emma Clayton
  • Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
  • Gone by Michael Grant
JamieMarriage's picture
JamieMarriage from Sydney, Australia is reading Spider, Spin Me a Web - Lawrence Block May 31, 2012 - 3:13pm

I got to review Graceling for a year or so ago. It really is the kind of book that would make a damn fun film.

Chester Pane's picture
Chester Pane from Portland, Oregon is reading The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz June 1, 2012 - 1:01am

YA is the future. Because when we are old, we think of our youth. And when we are young we think of the future. YA encapsulates this. But the archaic borders must catch up?  The parameters are changing.

YA? Kids nowadays are fast and furious. They crave momentum, not yawn. Not sigh. Not arms in the air, but only to stretch. They want to run. Show them the raceway.


The beauty of literature is that we all get to run, even if we lack legs.

I wish people would pay more attention to YA. 

I wish people would buy me a beer.

Boyd Norton's picture
Boyd Norton from Evergreen, CO June 1, 2012 - 8:53am

How about Ghost Child by Barbara Norton. Okay, I'm prejudiced because I'm married to the author. But it does have an intriguing and unusual plot.

ansmith's picture
ansmith June 1, 2012 - 9:03am

I would seriously go wild for a Jessica Darling movie. And I've added The Knife of Never Letting Go to my evergrowing to-read list... looks like it will be an incredible movie!

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated June 1, 2012 - 1:29pm

Anyone optioned any of these?

1979semifinalist's picture
1979semifinalist from California but living in NYC is reading Joe Hill's NOS4A2 June 4, 2012 - 8:21pm

I admit I haven't quite finished it yet, but The Night Circus seems like a goldmine for a film - the visuals could be so incredible. Although I suppose it risks not living up to one's imagination.

Regarding The Knife Of Never Letting Go...I really liked it, and loved the concept, writing, and world building, but I felt the last 1/4 of the book really dropped off and was disappointing...anyone else?

poshdeluxe's picture
poshdeluxe June 8, 2012 - 3:00pm

I agree, it would be great to see The Book Thief on screen. Although I'm not sure if my tear ducts could handle it.

@1979semifinalist: Don't give up on the Chaos Walking trilogy! The books get better and better, I promise.

Kimberli Buckley's picture
Kimberli Buckley June 13, 2012 - 8:47am

I would really like to see Tom Maberry's Rot & Ruin on the big screen!  I can't wait to see Tom Imura in action.  Whoo he is hot in this book!

Zackery Olson's picture
Zackery Olson from Rockford, IL is reading pretty much anything I can get my hands on September 24, 2012 - 11:49am

I found ‘Divergent' thoroughly underwhelming. The world-building is lacking and the evolution of the Tris character makes no sense. The novel felt like a thinly disguised take on high school cliques. Much like many other highly touted YA novels, it is obsessed with the idea of individuality, which doesn't seem to be an authentic idea in an era where people define themselves through the things they've liked on their Facebook page--music, books, films, etc.

I'm reading 'Incarceron' right now and finding it underwhelming as well. Fisher fooled me into thinking her world-building is good in the first part of the novel, but as it has progressed I've decided that it really isn't. There is no real explanation for the protocol that society is forced to function under. Because of this, the political intrigue that Fisher includes feels weak and unclear. Also, Claudia is not a very likeable heroin. She is willful and seemingly fearless but she is entirely controlled by her emotions; she lacks the ability to channel her willfulness and bravery into any logical plan. My third gripe about the book is that I feel Fisher is underestimating her audience. She does way too much telling and not enough showing. The idea of the living prison is an intriguing premised, but it cannot support the story on its own.

Frankly, some of the more recent well-regarded novels in the YA market aren't that good. It's disappointing to me since I enjoy well-written YA books very much and feel that YA novels have as much potential to be literary as novels aimed at adults, if not more in some cases.Pullman's 'His Dark Materials' was excellent (though its film adaptation was terrible), as was 'Feed' by M.T. Anderson. I just wish more authors of YA fiction had as much confidence in the abilities of their audience as Pullman and Anderson.

Maddi Hughes's picture
Maddi Hughes June 1, 2013 - 9:52am

The Artemis Fowl series and The Hatchet series are at the top of my wishlist. 

Warren Gilbert's picture
Warren Gilbert September 18, 2013 - 12:36pm

Fledgling Jason Steed, book 1 in the Jason Steed series should be a movie, it's better than Alex Rider and Hnger Games.