If you’ve been in a brick and mortar bookstore lately, you’ve probably noticed that Teen Fiction has gotten bigger and bigger. Where only a few years ago, the Teen section consisted of one book case, it is now three. I am left wandering the shelves, wondering where the Teen section ends and where the general Scifi and Fantasy section begins…
Teen fiction hasn’t been around for a long time. The concept of a “children’s” section of anything having only come about since the industrial age when children had jobs and were in possession of money to spend on their own interests. By the 1900’s, children had mostly episodic stories to choose from. Books like the Hardy Boys and Box-Car Children started coming out in the 1920s. Even before that, was Anne of Green Gables in 1908.
World War 2 set the stage for a lot of changes. The world was full of disillusioned and displaced young men and women looking for some escape and meaning in life. Then statement made by Tolkien that an electric lamppost couldn’t exist in a good fantasy epic spawned one of the first young adult series that garnered attention. The Chronicles of Narnia, published in 1950, has since sold 100 million copies in 47 languages. As the hype of Narnia was ending, the 1962 publication of A Wrinkle in Time slid in for a home run.
Then for a while literature was in a rut of single-topic narratives about just generally being a teenager. In 1995, His Dark Materials trilogy gave a clap-back to Narnia. This attempt to take on the themes presented in its predecessor and look at them in a scientific light wasn’t a flop, but it didn’t get much attention until 2005 when the Narnia movie was made.
The major explosion of the Young Adult genre came in 1997. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone hit like a meteor with nearly the same cultural impact as the release of the first Star Wars movie. The story, with complicated characters and complicated plots, took the feelings of displacement all teens felt and planted them into an adventure that spoke to readers of any age. It’s no wonder, when the Harry Potter Mania was reaching it’s height around 2005 that Hollywood finally caught on. Who wouldn’t pay attention when a children’s book sells 11 million copies in 24 hours? Warner Brothers had already acquired the movie rights to the Harry Potter series in 1998 and released Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in 2001. Jumping onto the Harry Potter train, other Hollywood studios reached for low-hanging apples such as Narnia (2005), and The Golden Compass (2007). Summit Entertainment took a gamble, grabbed the rights for Twilight (2005), and followed quickly with the film in 2008.
Since then, Hollywood has been playing catchup, trying to recreate the success of the Harry Potter series with disappointing results. His Dark Materials franchise generally flopped, having produced one movie. Narnia only enjoyed a mild success with three movies. Ever on the lookout for new sleeper-hits, they stumbled across The Hunger Games books (2008). This blew the world up with its dystopian Cinderella story, though Lionsgate Entertainment was a little late in producing the movie, 2012. The success of The Hunger Games led to a plethora of dystopian fantasies, of which only Divergent became particularly well-known.
Now, the world of literature and cinema have become so intertwined that you can bet if a book gets a lot of interest, Hollywood will come running. This is a boon to young writers. Publishing Young Adult fiction is a lucrative business model. It’s only a matter of time before someone stumbles across a story that resonates with millions of people once again. So it’s with joy that I wander the expanding Sci-fi section of the bookstore.