I hear people talking about reality TV all the time. More and more, when I hear someone describe why they like a certain reality TV show, I want to tell them, “Well, if you like that show, then I have the perfect novel to recommend!” There is a strong connection between reality TV and teen literature; we have seen how authors use the premise of reality TV taking over the world in their works. However, I think there is also a connection between reality TV and teen lit because the subjects expressed in both are very similar — subjects like love, family, survival, and undiscovered talent.
Below you’ll find some of my pairings of teen novels and reality TV shows. Check them out and then recommend some of your own!
“The Bachelor” / The Selection by Kiera Cass
Perhaps one of the most obvious pairings, The Selection is Kiera Cass’s dystopian novel that takes the competitive reality dating we see on one of ABC’s most popular reality TV shows, “The Bachelor,” and sets it in a futuristic world where a strict caste system exists. America is one of thirty-five girls chosen to compete to marry Prince Maxon. She has already found love with her neighbor, but he is a caste below her and they both know there is no way they could have a future together. Though she does not want to be the next queen, America cannot deny the opportunity for a better life for her and her family.
“Duck Dynasty” / The Chicken Dance by Jacques Couvillon
The Louisiana-based Robertson family has found success with a small family business that caters to duck hunters and has now made them millionaires. The hit reality TV show on A&E, “Duck Dynasty,” chronicles their day-to-day life keeping the business running and dealing with their new fame and fortune. Likewise, The Chicken Dance by Jacques Couvillon tells the story of what happens to eleven-year-old Don after finding fame from winning a chicken-judging contest. Also set in Louisiana but during the 1970’s, this novel deals with the family secrets that come out as a result of Don’s success.
“The Voice” / Rival by Sara Bennett Wealer
Unlike “American Idol,” “The Voice” is focused on just that. NBC’s singing competition is like no other we have seen before. “The Voice” begins with blind auditions where relativity unknown singers have the opportunity to win a chance to work with one of four celebrities to win the big prize: a million dollars and a recording contract. The intense competition in Sara Bennett Wealer’s novel, Rival, is not as grand but it is a big deal to the two main characters, Brooke and Kathryn. Both are seniors and are about to compete in the prestigious Blackmore vocal competition. The novel chronicles what happened between the former friends that resulted in such a deep rivalry.
“Top Chef” / Stir It Up! by Ramin Ganeshram
Bravo’s “Top Chef” puts up-and-coming amateur chefs in direct competition with one another. Each episode presents a unique sets of challenges, and in the end there will be only one Top Chef. I love watching how each contestant handles the different challenges and the unique dishes they create! Like many of the contestants of “Top Chef,” the main character of Stir It Up! dreams of one day being a world-renowned chef with her own TV show. Anjali’s cooking skills are deeply rooted in her family’s Hindu and Trinidadian heritage. When she wins a chance to audition for a cooking show, she struggles against her traditional father, who believes she should be focusing on school.
“Project Runway” / Breakfast as Bloomingdale’s by Kristen Kemp
Just like “Top Chef,” “Project Runway” sets amateur fashion designers against each other in weekly challenges. Now being aired on Lifetime, it is just as fascinating to watch as “Top Chef” to see what these designers will create in response to the challenges. Cat Zappe has very similar ambitions to those of the contestants of “Project Runway.” In Breakfast at Bloomingdale’s, Cat is seventeen and has run off to New York City to compete in a contest to win the ultimate prize: her fashion creations sold at Bloomingdale’s. However, Cat is also running away from the grief back home as a result of her grandmother’s recent death. Can Cat survive NYC and find the success she desires?
“Survivor” / Beauty Queens by Libba Bray (2011 Readers Choice Nomination)
“Survivor” was one of the first huge reality TV shows and is still going strong. Aired on CBS, it maroons a group of average people in a remote setting. Contestants must compete against one another in order to stay on the island and make it to the end to win the big prize. Much of the drama is watching how different alliances are made and broken. So what happens when a group of teen beauty queens are stranded on a remote island after a plane crash? You will find the hilarious and action-packed answer in Libba Bray’s novel, Beauty Queens. Each teen queen will use her special skills to ensure that the group survives, while at the same time forming alliances of their own that create plenty of drama.
“The Biggest Loser” / Artichoke’s Heart by Suzanne Supplee (2010 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults)
One of the more controversial — but also life-changing — reality TV shows on air is “The Biggest Loser.” Contestants, who are considered obese, compete to lose weight to win a prize. The show, aired on NBC, states that it works closely with health professionals to ensure that activities and weight loss are done in a healthy way. Seeing the changes in the contestants’ physical appearance as well as how they overcome mental roadblocks can make for some pretty inspiring TV. Artichoke’s Heart by Suzanne Supplee is one of the rare teen novels where the protagonist achieves weight loss with a healthy mindset. Rosemary makes good decisions to get to a healthy weight, and along the way she realizes that nobody’s life is perfect.
— Colleen Seisser, currently reading The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
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