The Host: Why it’s YA, and That’s Okay
The screen adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s science fiction novel, The Host, debuted in movie theaters nationwide last month to much excitement from the Twilight Saga author’s legions of fans. While this alien invasion story was well received by moviegoing audiences, it’s been promptly and soundly panned by film critics.
Though I’m not surprised that this film isn’t being praised as Oscar-worthy, I have to admit that I’m taken aback by the direction the criticism has taken.
- Leonard Maltin says “It’s Team Edward and Team Jacob all over again, but even cheesier.”
- CNN’s Tom Charity calls it “pretty silly stuff, ‘Twi’-lite if you will.”
- Steve Persall from the Tampa Bay Times declares it “merely a teenage girl’s fantasy checklist for prom.”
Essentially, The Host is being widely dismissed by critics as “Twilight with aliens” because the heroine is faced with a romantic entanglement.
As a YA reader, I take issue with the implication that because this story contains romance, it’s therefore only meant for teenage girls. It’s true that falling in love is a huge part of the self-discovery and coming-of-age themes so prevalent in YA fiction — but why do these critics perceive romance and self-discovery to be the sole domain of teens? And even if that were true, isn’t it a little insulting to write off those concepts as silly?
“But wait!” you’re saying, “Twilight was YA, but The Host was marketed as an adult novel!” This is correct; The Host is Meyer’s foray into the realm of fiction for adults. But it has massive amounts of crossover appeal for teens, because, let’s face it: The Host is essentially YA. At its most basic level, it’s YA because the main character happens to be seventeen, but more than that, the story makes it clearly YA. It’s about a person (well, alien) seeing the world around her clearly for the first time, learning to make her own decisions, and discovering who she is and what she stands for. These are all classic themes of YA literature — so yes, The Host is a YA story. On that point, I agree with the critics. But as an adult who reads YA fiction, I do not agree that a YA story is any less valid or legitimate than a story for adults.
Like many YA stories, The Host features romance as a vital plot element, but its central message goes beyond romantic love. It’s about discovering what it means to be human, and the value of life and love. Romance is a part of that. So are family, friends, and death. The Host‘s protagonist experiences the human condition in all its forms, and yet all the critics can pounce on is the fact that she’s faced with two cute boys. Dismissing The Host for its similarities to Twilight is akin to dismissing YA fiction in general, and that’s just short-sighted.
Finally, would these same critics have been as dismissive if this movie hadn’t been based on a novel by the author who created the Twilight phenomenon? Would they take it more seriously — or at least cut it more slack — if they had no reason to compare it to Twilight? What does it say about the general public’s perception of YA fiction that critics feel so free to dismiss something just because it’s YA?
Oh, well. The critics can keep rolling their eyes. I’ll probably buy The Host on Blu-Ray. And I’ll keep reading YA, because I know there’s more to it than cute boys and love triangles.
— Allison Tran, currently reading Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare