As a father of three who has worked with youth for 20 years, I’ve had a front row seat from which to observe the cultural saturation of America’s young adults, particularly when it comes to entertainment. A good story is powerful, and some great storytellers are teaching the next generation a lot about life – for better or worse.
Unfortunately, the current blend of creativity, technology, storytelling and media has set us adrift in a sea of stories. When I ask my students to list a favorite song, book, movie, or TV show, the choices in a class of twenty-five are often unique. The occasional story hits a wide demographic (The Hunger Games has been read or seen by maybe half the students), but in general there is tremendous diversity. This presents a dilemma: their stories provide a great way to engage with them in meaningful conversations about life, but I can’t possibly keep up.
In an effort to make the literary sea a bit smaller for those like me who want to know what’s shaping the next generation, I have begun posting reviews of entertainment that impacts a primarily young adult audience. I generally choose books, films and TV shows that make top ten lists or are headed to the big screen. I avoid the teen romance genre – but those books aren’t being turned into blockbuster movies, are they? Dystopias, horror, fantasy, sci-fi, and superheroes seem to be where all the action is right now. I, for one, am not complaining.
My goal is not to critique the art form as much as look at the worldview. Why do these stories resonate? What messages are being absorbed? How can we take the narratives that are shaping our culture and connect them to the greatest story of all?
Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games: J.W. Wartick gives a good overview of the film version of Catching Fire; click here for a perspective on the entire series and here for an article that will provide multiple links for insights based on The Hunger Games and Philosophy.
Veronica Roth’s Divergent: The book was excellent; I hope the movie lives up to the hype.
Max Brook’s World War Z: The book is brilliant. Seriously. The movie vaguely reminded me of the book.
Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies: A surprisingly deep story of love and human nature. The book was written for adults; the movie aims for a YA crowd. The content matches the target audience in each.
The Mortal Instruments: The book was a glittering mess. Engaging, flashy, and epic, its moral center did not hold.
Joe Hill’s Horns: Stephen King’s extremely talented son has written the most disturbing young adult book I have read. It’s dark, crude, and nihilistic, though there is a sort of rough justice that shows up throughout the book. And Frodo got the nod for the movie?
Joseph Delaney’s The Last Apprentice: The upcoming movie version (Seventh Son) looks great; the book on which it is based is okay.
Joseph Finder’s Paranoia: The movie bombed in spite of being headlined by some some heavy hitters. As interesting as the book was, it didn’t feel like a YA book, and the ending left a lot to be desired.
BOOKS THAT WILL LIKELY BECOME MOVIES
Neil Shusterman’s Unwind: I highly recommend this book and its sequel, Unwholly, as Shusterman offers a brilliant analysis of the culture of abortion.
Jonathan Mayberry’s Rot and Ruin series: After reading and reviewing the first two, I bought the next two for my boys for Christmas. It’s a great series that takes the zombie genre and turns it into a compelling story of character, heroism, and nobility.
Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Drowned Cities is an excellent book. Violent and grim yet strangely hopeful, it gives a thought-provoking and honest look at war, idealism, science, politics, and human nature.
Allie Condie’s Matched series: A solid-but-not-spectacular dystopic story overshadowed by The Hunger Games and the Divergent series.
Aprillynne Pike’s Wings: A light, saccharine story of a girl who finds out she is a fairy. Also featuring the boys who love her.
Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hand and Teeth and Sarah Mass’s Throne of Glass: Both feature strong female heroines who became less compelling as the story unfolded. Their ongoing series have the potential to accomplish more than the initial books.
FILM AND TV
The Walking Dead: It’s one of the most popular shows on the AMC-can-do-no-wrong playlist. Here’s a link to a series of posts that use The Walking Dead and Philosophy to look at the deeper issues in the gruesome but compelling show. Cinemagogue also offers a great perspective from James Harleman, a long-time fan of the series.
Star Trek: Heart of Darkness. J.J. Abrams is doing some solid things with this franchise.
The Wolverine: It’s a dark, violent, serious chapter in the Wolverine saga. Troubling on its own, but compelling when viewed in light of the overall story arc.
This Is The End: The apocalypse had a busy year in entertainment. This raunchy movie did not target teens, but trust me – they saw it. Unfortunately.
I hope the reviews will encourage critical thinking and serious reflection while providing some cultural clarity. If you can read or watch the primary sources, I encourage you to do so. If not, perhaps this can at least help start the conversation. For more great reviews, I recommend Cinemagogue, Always Have A Reason, and Plugged In.
(This article was originally posted at http://empiresandmangers.blogspot.com/2013/12/trending-ya-entertainment-2013-2014.html)