Stealing from the Screen

With Hunger Games fresh on everyone’s minds (even Kerri’s!), I’ve heard lots of recent chatter about book-to-screen adaptations.

Okay, so it's not Downton. But you get the picture, so to speak...Image courtesy of Jenn and Tony Bot (flickr.com)

But what I’ve been thinking about is the reverse: Screen-to-book. And not those paperback, ghost-written “novelizations” that crop up to accompany every minor blockbuster. I’m talking about Downton Abbey.

Let me explain. Downton Abbey is a television series about the inhabitants of an aristocratic country manor in very early 1900s England. I am not a person who watches period dramas, but after so much hype among my friends and on my Twitter feed, I got sucked in. I like that the series incorporates history that I know about, like the beginning of World War I or the Titanic sinking. I like how the show follows characters who have inherited the large estate and also those who work tirelessly to keep the home running. And of course, there is plenty of romance, plenty of backstabbing, and plenty of salacious family secrets.

A few weeks ago a Publisher’s Weekly announcement for a new 2013 title called “Cinders & Sapphires” caught my eye. The description? A debut YA novel “about the teens who live upstairs and downstairs at Somerton Court as World War I opens.”

Downton gone YA? I felt equal parts skeptical and intrigued. Although books will always be first in my heart, great television could be a very-very close second. But when I read a book, I don’t want to hear the same story I’ve already heard before, whether that story is a period drama or yet another permutation of the paranormal romance. I don’t like the idea of YA as a place for writers to just “jump on the bandwagon”… but since season two ended and I’ve gone into Downton withdrawals, a trip to Somerton might be my only substitute.

But I am hoping that Cinders and Smoke will take what I love about Downton Abbey and do something new with it. After ruminating on this screen-to-book phenomenon, I’ve remembered quite a few YA titles that seem to have “borrowed” from television without feeling tired or derivative; these novels take something from a popular television show and add something new. I’ve seen enough Dexter to feel perplexed about the mind of a somewhat altruistic serial killer, but Barry Lyga’s “I Hunt Killers” makes me wonder what it would be like to be Dexter’s teenage son. I’m sure Libba Bray was aware of a little show called LOST while she wrote about teen girls stranded on a desert island, but I liked “Beauty Queens” even more. The distinctive voices and quirky backstories for each character reminded me of LOST’s diverse cast of characters without reminding me of those crazy, convoluted plotlines. And even after Mad Men sucked me into the weird social and gender roles of the 1950s, Judy Blundell’s 2008 “What I Saw and How I Lied” showed me that a teenaged girl could be just as fascinating and complex a character as any rich and powerful ad man.

So I will cross my fingers and hope that “Cinders and Smoke” will have the characters and perspective that endear me to both television and YA. And if not, there are a sea of other great YA books (and a few television shows) that likely will.

And if all else fails? Downton Abbey reruns it is…

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