As a huge YA reader, I’m the first one in line when one of my favorite books gets turned into a movie. It’s even more fun if the crowd is just as excited, waiting for days to get tickets, or even staying up all night for a midnight showing. But for every The Hunger Games, there are still those small or indie adaptations that don’t necessarily get the love they deserve. Which is a shame, as some of the more obscure films blow the big-budget blockbusters out of the water. So in the spirit of fairness, here are four YA book-to-movie adaptations that you’ve probably never heard of, but should go watch immediately:
How I Live Now (2013)
I first read How I Live Now (Random House Kids, 2004) a few years ago, and I was blown away by the lyrical, creepy world that Meg Rosoff created in her awesome YA novel. It tells the story of Daisy, an American teen who is sent to stay with her cousins in England. At first it’s all about how the rebellious girl starts to soften –- and fall in love -– in the idyllic countryside. But things take a dark turn when war and an unnamed enemy-occupation invade the pastoral paradise that Daisy and her cousins have created. The movie, out in 2013 and starring Saoirse Ronan, is just as lovely as the book, capturing both the beauty of the English countryside and the darkness when their world is torn apart. This quickly became one of my all-time favorite movies and it’s a shame that more people haven’t heard of it.
City of Ember (2008)
Speaking of Saoirse Ronan, she also stars in this 2008 adaptation of Jeanne DuPrau’s popular City of Ember (Random House Kids, 2003) novel. In the book (and the subsequent three sequels), DuPrau explores Ember, an underground city created by the Builders hundreds of years ago to provide an escape for a crumbling world. But Ember is now the one crumbling, with failing crops, supplies running out, and the threat of looming darkness. The Builders created a way to return to the surface, but the secret to finding the exit was lost years ago. It’s up to two children, Lina and Doon, to try and decipher the code that will save civilization from dying out in Ember. It’s an amazing story, with epic landscapes and a uniquely conceived world. Luckily, the movie captures all the magic of the book. Considering the stars in this film (Bill Murray, for one), I’m surprised that it flew under my radar for years. But now I consider it a must-watch for any lover of children’s literature.
Tiger Eyes (2012)
Words cannot express how much I love Judy Blume and this 1982 novel, Tiger Eyes (Random House), about a young girl coping with her father’s recent death and the turmoil it creates in her family. Far too few Blume novels have made it to the big screen, so I was surprised when this one didn’t get much press when it was released in 2012. The movie, starring Arrow‘s Willa Holland, was directed by Blume’s son, Lawrence Blume, and it feels like a labor of love: dreamy but realistic, and compulsively watchable. If you like coming-of-age stories and tough emotional journeys, then Tiger Eyes is for you.
Warm Bodies (2013)
OK, so you might have heard of Warm Bodies. Starring Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer, this movie got a bit of traction when it came out three years ago -– though it certainly never rose to The Hunger Games or Divergent fame. It deserves a lot more credit than it got, as the movie is funny, sweet and totally unique. Zombie R can’t remember much about his life before dying, but when he sees the human Julie his heart beats again for the first time in years. They slowly fall in love, changing both their worlds forever. Hoult’s voice-over is charming and hilarious, and the whole story offers a spin on zombies we’ve never seen before. The book, Warm Bodies (Atria Books, 2011), written by Isaac Marion, isn’t technically a YA novel, but it hits a lot of the right beats: young love, finding yourself and a paranormal, post-apocalyptic setting that’s fascinating and unique. Watch Warm Bodies when you’re in the mood for a zombie film that’s much more about kissing than eating brains.