BySam Cooper, writer at Creators.co
Spastic writer and a lover of all things with the word "espresso" in the title.
Sam Cooper

Before 13 Reasons Why, we hadn't seen many YA book adaptations dealing with extraordinarily tough themes. 2012's The Perks of Being a Wallflower touched on topics like suicide and mental illness, and the scene in general has never shied away from portraying death, but no adaptation has reached the daring harshness on display in . While the show's graphic depictions of suicide and rape are not necessarily a positive force, they've opened a door that has never before been touched.

'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' [Credit: Summit Entertainment]
'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' [Credit: Summit Entertainment]

Following the success of 13 Reasons Why, will onscreen adaptations of controversial YA stories be more common?

The overwhelming response of 13 Reasons Why is clear sign that audiences have no problem discussing the complexities and truths of tough subjects. They've shown that they're willing to take a dose of something stronger with their evening entertainment. Here are the YA books with themes that have been under-represented, misrepresented, or flat-out ignored by studios.

3. I'll Give You The Sun — Family Relationships

As much as bad love triangles are an unfortunate YA trope, so are rocky family relationships. Some Young Adult stories have a tendency to underplay the significance of parent and sibling relationships. It's tragic, because this highly ignored topic is brimming with the potential for engaging, emotional stories. Jandy Nelson's award-winning novel I'll Give You the Sun is one of the strongest family-centered books for teens available, and it puts a quirky spin on the theme of broken relationships.

[Credit: Dial Books]
[Credit: Dial Books]

What's It About?

I'll Give You the Sun follows twins Noah and Jude Sweetwine. Noah's part of the story is told when he is 14. Jude's part is told when she's 16. At one time, they were inseparable, but the tragic death of their mother and the rise of countless messy secrets drives them apart. Now, they don't talk. Jealousy and resent fills the space between them. Through lies, betrayal and misunderstanding, can they ever find their way back to each other?

Why Do We Need To See It?

Unlike other YA novels, I'll Give You the Sun dives headfirst into the hurtful aspects of family relationships. Each character's struggle is voiced clearly and painfully. In addition to losing his mother, Noah falls hard for the star-gazing neighbor boy, Brian, who may or may not like him back. Jude attends an art school she hates and feels that her creativity is being limited by the ghost of her mother. Even the parents are given three-dimensional struggles (and the parent-child dynamics are just as real). Jandy Nelson worked hard to create a story that leaps beyond entertainment and shines a light onto some of the issues we face in our own homes.

Warner Bros. currently holds the rights to I'll Give You the Sun, but the project has been silent since 2014. We can only hope it makes it to the screen sooner than later.

2. George — LGBT People

While the YA genre — and the entertainment industry in general — has moved closer to appropriate representation and inclusion of LGBT people, there's still a disappointing gap when it comes to transgender characters. The answer is in middle grade fiction. Not only does genderqeer author Alex Gino's story George have a transgender character at the center, it's a tale that's been recognized for its progressive, honest take on the matter.

[Credit: Scholastic Corporation]
[Credit: Scholastic Corporation]

What's It About?

George is a 10 year old who really wants to play Charlotte in the school's upcoming production of Charlotte's Web. See, George really feels like a Melissa, but George's teacher won't allow them to play the part. George follows the adventure of a young transgender student learning to be who they are.

Why Do We Need To See It?

George is unique in the fact that it isn't graphic like 13 Reasons Why, but the story is still brutally honest. Alex Gino wrote George from the perspective of a 10 year old for a specific reason. It shifts the focus from transgender people transitioning physically to transgender people just being people. It brings the issue down to the comprehension level of younger audiences, but never dilutes the topic.

1. Afterward — Sexual Abuse And PTSD

In 13 Reasons Why, Hannah's story was heavily influenced by a sexual assault, but there's much more to be said on the issue. Jennifer Mathieu's contemporary novel, Afterward, shines a light on the way people suffer after surviving sexual abuse. Afterward is a shockingly patient, understanding story that lays out truths at the same time it offers hope.

[Credit: Roaring Brook Press]
[Credit: Roaring Brook Press]

What's It About?

Afterward is the story of Ethan, a boy who was abducted at a young age. He spends four years in captivity and suffers ongoing sexual abuse. When he's finally rescued, he has a hard time re-adjusting to normal life. His PTSD episodes are debilitating, and his relationship with his parents is rocky. Things get muddier when the details of the case emerge and it becomes apparent that Ethan could have left his captor multiple times.

Why Do We Need To See It?

Unlike 13 Reasons Why, which shocked audiences with a horrific portrayal of sexual assault, Afterward spends its time quietly fleshing out the experiences of an abuse survivor. It digs into what it's like to live with PTSD and question whether or not you truly know yourself. Afterward is haunting in its patience, honesty, and the sheer weight it carries in a short number of pages. Young Adult entertainment is no stranger to themes of sexual abuse, but it's never seen a story with the same tone and feeling as Afterward.

Stories for young people are, quite possibly, the most influential pieces of work we can create. They shape the people that shape the future, and so it makes sense that we deal with tough topics head-on. However, these challenging themes aren't always entertaining. A paper-thin line runs between creating something enjoyable and creating something informative. 13 Reasons Why seemed to have torn that line, and yet it's far from being the only YA story to feature tough topics.

'13 Reasons Why' [Credit: Netflix]
'13 Reasons Why' [Credit: Netflix]

As an audience, we've shown that we like to see truth in stories. There's a sea of untouched issues and a mountain of books written about them. The only remaining question is when they'll appear on the screen.

What controversial topic would you like to see covered in a Young Adult story?

Trending

Latest from our Creators