In the wake of The Hunger Games dominating the box office, studios are rushing faster than ever to find more young-adult books to turn into movies. According to the Los Angeles Times, it's become a feeding frenzy, to the point that Universal paid $1 million for the rights to a book that's only sold about 23,000 copies since September.
And the list of YA novels that have been optioned in the past year is too long to reproduce. But our bet for the book series that has the best shot at capturing the audiences that swarmed to see Katniss kick ass? The Vampire Academy books by Richelle Mead.
I've read a lot of YA science fiction and fantasy books in the past few years, and it's safe to say that they've been hit and miss. For every Hunger Games, there have been some duds, including some books that got major attention and huge movie deals. As Universal's Peter Cramer tells the L.A. Times, "We're seeing a million of them, but most feel like imitations or 'Johnny-come-latelies.'"
In particular, I see a lot of cookie-cutter dystopian settings, which often lack any real menace, or an interesting means of social control. Or worse yet, contrived set-ups, which don't seem like they would ever happen in real life. I'm also seeing a lot of bland main characters, who are too passive in the face of the challenges they face — which is the kiss of death for this type of novel, and especially for any movie. Oh, and then there's the I Am Number Four problem, where the main character is just unlikable and kind of a brat.
The thing that was so great about Hunger Games, and resonated with so many people, was the fact that Katniss is seldom passive, and she has actual survival skills. She doesn't get drawn into the Games because she's picked randomly — she volunteers, to save her sister. And once she's pulled in, she keeps making choices, and trying to use her skills to survive. She's proactive and skilled, and also kind of pissed off at the world.
And that's why I like Rose Hathaway as a potential heroine of a film series — she's also a proactive character who makes rash, impulsive choices. The first VA novel begins with Rose and her best friend Lissa already having run away from the Academy, after Rose was on the verge of being expelled for destroying school property. Rose says things like "I don't start fights where people can see them," but she's refreshingly violent nonetheless. She's also training to become a vampire bodyguard, so there are lots of training scenes and fight scenes, and yet she's not invincible or anything — she gets her ass kicked a lot.
And the world-building, featuring two races of vampires, the Moroi and the evil Strigoi, plus the half-breed dhampirs, is also engaging. As the books go on, we get sucked further into the intricacies of vampire politics and the Moroi get more and more desperate to survive in the face of the overwhelming Strigoi threat.
I wrote a lot about the awesomeness of the first Vampire Academy book here. Suffice to say, it's very different than The Hunger Games, but it's also not really much like Twilight or Harry Potter either, despite the "vampires" and "boarding school" thing. Image by GiorRoig on Deviant Art