By Henry P. Raleigh
ART TIMES Fall 2014
I came across the acronym not long ago, first mistaking it for one of those artful internet chat room things like LOL and LJBF. Well, it turned out to be a term in book publishing that referred, rather generously I thought, to an expanding genre of short novels plotted around teenaged “growing up” problems. I imagine this group doesn’t care any longer to be known as “teenagers” (a growing up problem all in itself) and it did wonders for their self-esteem and those book sales to take on an up-grade in identify suggested by “young adults” — shortened to YA it does sound pretty cool. All of this caught the eye of Hollywood filmmakers who are ever on the lookout for catchy trends. The “Hobbit” films and the success of the “Twilight” series opened the way for youth oriented movies. Movies based on YA novels then seemed the way to go and after all, there will always be teenagers and they will always suffer “growing up” problems, won’t they? Oh, there was Nancy Drew and Tom Swift in the old days but no one could find any hot script material there. Later we had a fill of Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland still there was no real angst here that couldn’t be resolved by a swell musical production. Beach movies followed exchanging only the Lindy for the Twist but extending the age range of YA’s to include twenty somethings. Frankie Avalon was 26 in “Beach Blanket Bingo”, Annette Funicello 22. However singing and dancing YA’s can’t be taken seriously but it’s a different story when they are killing each other as they did in the 2012’s film “The Hunger Games” from the novel by 22 year old Veronica Roth and for a smashing box office return. With such encouragement from then to 2014 came a parade of YA derived films throwing in some leftover vampires from the “Twilight” franchise: “Beautiful Creatures” , “City of Bones”, “Mortal Instruments” and “Vampire Academy”. All, alarmingly, bombed dismally. The YA boom hit a low in returns and book sales did better. Maybe there was a surfeit of vampires - “Hunger Games” had gone without the bloodsuckers and did fine. “Divergent” in early 2014 would hopefully put things to right. Where the dystopian society in “Hunger Games” was divided into thirteen districts and an annual televised celebration of chosen adolescents murdering one another, “Divergent” opts for five “Factions” with keeno names as Dauntless and Abnegation composed of SAT selected sixteen to eighteen year olds trained to main and slaughter those of contentious rival Factions. A big plus here, swiped from another popular franchise, is the lead character’s back resplendent with nifty logos of the five Factions tattooed from top to bottom. Despite this cherry-picking from other franchises “Divergent” was a disappointment, it had strayed, like the others, too far from the essence of YA ‘growing up problems”. Does your average teenager hang out with vampires or get shot by arrows? So back to basics and real teen problems, with films such as “The Fault in our Stars” the love story of two teen cancer patients, “If I stay”, a thoughtful piece about a seventeen year old who is comatose albeit choosing between her life and death, and “The Giver”, a sixteen year old living what seems to be a perfect world is forced to learn it’s all a sham. Here are certainly authentic “growing up” problems that every teen may come up against. Come to think of it the YA concept might readily embrace other adult categories, say MAA -Middle aged adults and even ROA - really old adults. You know, something for everyone.
note: Henry Raleigh’s daughter is a published YA author. You can find her at norabaskin.com/@noraraleighb