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The Host: Why it’s YA, and That’s Okay

2013 April 11
by Allison Tran
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host_movie_posterThe 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.

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

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12 Responses
  1. Leslie permalink
    April 11, 2013

    I completely agree! The Host should have been YA from the beginning. I think it was a marketing ploy (and she probably did want to be an “adult” book author), but you know if it’s labeled as “adult” that the price doubles for all formats.

    • Allison Tran permalink*
      April 11, 2013

      Thanks, Leslie! I think you’re right- Meyer may have wanted to demonstrate that she could write something other than YA. It’s a little more leisurely-paced than typical YA, too, so maybe that had something to do with the marketing. I think, though, in many ways, The Host is a stronger YA story than the Twilight books– the themes of self-discovery are much more pronounced. I always find the psychology behind book marketing to be very interesting and sometimes mysterious!

  2. Jessica M permalink
    April 11, 2013

    I haven’t seen the movie yet (I’m actually going tomorrow!) so I can’t speak to how they translated the book to film, but I’m so disappointed in all the critics that are just lumping The Host in with the Twilight Saga. I have to say that I thought the Meyer did a fantastic job with the book and that it had beautiful nuances and moral layers that gave it a depth that the Twilight Saga just did not have. You are absolutely correct, it does feature romance, but it is not in any way just “another YA love triangle”… Ugh.

    • Allison Tran permalink*
      April 11, 2013

      Thanks for commenting, Jessica! I hope you enjoy the movie. I think they did a great job bringing the book to the screen. And I agree, the story is about more than just the love triangle (or rectangle!) – which is so often the case in YA: there may be romance, but there’s more substance, too, and it’s sad to see that overlooked.

  3. Carla Land permalink
    April 11, 2013

    Critics are going to hate on anything that they can’t relate to- that’s what critics do whether we’re talking about books or movies or music. I think the disdain for YA everything is as pronounced as it is because critics don’t see the value in what teens appreciate most of the time. Teens don’t listen to critics- they listen to their friends. If teens are reading/watching/listening to something then their friends are going to do the same, and critics just can’t stand that their opinion isn’t being valued. The irony is that the critics aren’t seeing the value of the thing they are panning- often because their minds have already been made up before the credits even start to roll.

    • Allison Tran permalink*
      April 13, 2013

      Thanks for the comment, Carla! Great point that teens listen to their friends over critics. So true- and I think the critics definitely made up their minds about this particular movie before they even saw it. Their response was one big backlash against Stephenie Meyer.

  4. April 12, 2013

    I really loved The Host as a book, and I enjoyed the movie. I felt like the story itself held up well, but dude- whoever did the mulitple “let’s make out in the rain” scenes went a little overboard on the cheese. (Also, I have to say my experience was enhanced by the two teenage boys sitting behind me, who made me laugh out loud with some of their comments.)

    I am not generally a fan of the love triangle as a driving motivation for characters, which is why this book worked so well for me. There are two distinct, and quite complicated, relationships going on in this story.

    • Allison Tran permalink*
      April 13, 2013

      Thanks for weighing in, Whitney! Ha, I’m definitely not saying this movie is perfect. :) And I agree, I’m tired of the standard love triangle.

  5. Clair permalink
    April 13, 2013

    I was discussing the film on Facebook, and a guy commented that it was basically twilight for the reasons you’ve listened. I retorted that for the same reasons many other films are therefore just like twilight, (including the return of the king where Aragorn is faced with the dilemma of choosing his path). He was kinda silent after that. But basically yeah I agree with you. But was Melanie 17 in the book? I feel like she was about 20 and jared was 27 ish?

    • Wendy permalink
      April 13, 2013

      You’re right. She was definitely older than seventeen, and he was somewhat older than she was. She was seventeen when they met, but in the book that was several years in the past. It has been a while since I read the it, but twenty does sound right. Did they make the characters younger to appeal to a younger audience? I have not seen the movie yet, but I loved the book. The story was more about the relationship between Melanie and Wanderer and what it really means to be human. It’s sad that anyone could look at that and only see the love triangle. Or rectangle or trapezoid or whatever…

      • Allison Tran permalink*
        April 14, 2013

        Thanks for the clarification, Wendy! It’s been a while since I read The Host, too. I think you’ll like the movie! Some things were changed, but I think they captured the essence, which is Wanderer’s discovery of herself and the meaning of humanity, as you mentioned.

    • Allison Tran permalink*
      April 14, 2013

      Hi Clair, thanks for stopping by! I think you and Wendy are correct, Melanie must be 17 in the flashbacks but a few years older in the “present-day” narrative. Still, I think the themes make the story YA for sure. Anyway, you gave a really good response to the “just like Twilight” argument! It’s hard to argue with a comparison to Tolkien.

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