5 YA Books that Deserve the Be More Chill Treatment
Before it was an earth-shattering, heart-rending groundbreaking musical, Be More Chill was the late, great Ned Vizzini’s debut novel. If you had told me, the first time that I read the book—after a recommendation from my high school librarian somewhere during sophomore year—that its musical adaptation would be a viral phenomenon, I would have laughed. Judging by the date stamps, I was one of the only people reading that book.
There was definitely a shortage of good taste at my high school. But I digress.
Re-discovering Be More Chill on the stage (well, on the cast recording and YouTube, which is the best I can do in Nevada) has been a real treat. As someone who’s branched into the theatre and writing YA fiction, it’s been great to see now only the best-selling powerhouse The Lightning Thief take off, but a somewhat obscure gem like Be More Chill find its place in the sun.
While none of these books are quite as obscure as BMC, all of them are powerful stories, geared toward young adults, that could feasibly find a home on the stage.
5. Crank by Ellen Hopkins
I had the privilege to see the world debut of Crank in Northern Nevada a few years ago. It was a straight play with some music but the most powerful music of all, Hopkins’s stunning and sharp verse, goes unaccompanied.
Crank, the semi-autobiographical story about Hopkins’s daughter’s descent from an A-student could benefit from a powerful musical setting and I think it would hit many of the same notes that Be More Chill touches on, albeit with more of a focus into drug culture. I’m hearing lots of guitars and screaming with this one.
4. If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Okay, so this book had a gorgeous film adaptation not too long ago, but I think that it truly belongs on a stage. Maybe not a blockbuster, but I can definitely see a powerful quiet ensemble show, with a powerful interplay between the main character’s love and devotion to playing classical cello, and her boyfriend and family’s love for punk rock. While Forman drops a lot of references to extant artists in the text—everything from the dreadfully à propos Girlfriend in a Coma by The Smiths to Yo Yo Ma, there is a lot of space for original music, as well as a plethora of original lyrics in the sequel, Where She Went. I’m picturing something wistful and quiet that packs an emotional punch.
3. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
This book is a classic—if you haven’t read it yet, get thee to a library! Watching the Lifetime film adaption starring a heartbreakingly young Kristen Stewart is also acceptable in a pinch.
Depicting the main character’s freshman year of high school where she suffers from selective mutism after being sexually assaulted at a summer party, Speak has a painful emotional core while providing a light-hearted satire of the American high school experience, one that remains relevant after nearly two decades of being in print.
The main conceit I have in mind for this show is a boisterous, loud show where everybody but Melinda would sing—until the end, where she finds her voice.
2. Looking for Alaska by John Green
After an eternity in film rights limbo, John Green’s heart-wrenching debut novel will be making its way to the small screen soon, thanks to Hulu.
Hallelujah, it’s about time.
But in addition to a life on the screen, it belongs on the stage as well. As I’m fairly sure that this book was written heavily under the influence of The Mountain Goats—Green makes no secret of his love for the band—I’m picturing a lot of rhythmic shouting and guitar.
The story deals with the peculiar freedom of going off to boarding school, making friends for the first time, being silly and young and finding and losing your heart.
1. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
I’m going to pre-empt this by saying that All The Bright Places is my favorite book of all time. And, fortunately for those of you who don’t like to read books, it will be hitting the big screen sometime soon.
All the Bright Places is a story of love and grief and being weird in high school. It’s about wandering the world and being unattached to the world and to life, and marveling in the small wonders of whatever bland corner of the world you call home.
It is a painful, intimate, universal, glorious story. And with the main character’s quirky lyrics and love for the guitar, it’s ripe for a musical setting.
Zach J. Payne is a poet, playwright, novelist, and thespian still looking to make his mark on the world. Which is hard to do when you live in Reno, but he does his best. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram @ZachJPayne or at http://zachjpayne.com