The box office is once again dominated by movie adaptations of young adult novels: there’s John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, Veronica Roth’s Divergent, Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games Mockingjay – Part 1, James Dashner’s The Maze Runner, Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy and Lois Lowry’s The Giver – to name a few of the YA adaptations coming in 2014. But it’s a British small-screen adaptation of a young adult series which has really captured my attention, and demonstrates that YA can be adapted for TV to great effect.
My Fat, Mad Teenage Diary was published in 2007, and based closely on author Rae Earl’s 1989 diary. It captures the life of 17-year-old Rae, who lives in a Lincolnshire council house with her mum. It covers a year that sees her go completely boy-crazy, while also dealing with a range of mental health issues including anxiety, delusions, OCD, and poor self-esteem from being overweight.
In January 2013, a TV adaptation of Earl’s book appeared on the British E4 channel. My Mad Fat Diary is set in 1996; Rae (played by the brilliant Sharon Rooney) has just been released from a four-month stint in a psychiatric ward, following a suicide attempt. Rae tentatively reconnects with her best childhood friend, Chloe (Jodie Comer) and falls into her group of four friends including the luscious Finn (Nico Mirallegro).
The TV series follows Rae as she tries to get back to ‘normal’, while still battling depression and begrudgingly attending weekly meetings with her psychiatrist, Kester (Ian Hart).
Rae Earl’s second book, My Madder Fatter Diary, was released January this year and in February the second season of My Mad Fat Diary also kicked off. Over the course of two seasons, totalling 13 episodes, the show has dealt with serious themes affecting teenagers, including mental health, teen pregnancy, fat shaming, homophobia and bullying. All have been handled with tenderness and humour, and a biting reality that never felt like it was half-heartedly ticking off a list of ‘teen issues’. Perhaps best of all, the show also portrayed teenage female sexuality with a degree of candour rarely seen on TV. In the first episode of season two, Rae says of Finn, ‘I want him to go down on me for so long he has to evolve gills!’ We also see Rae masturbate, and deal with crushing body anxiety when Finn wants to take things to the next level.
My Mad Fat Diary is one of the best teen shows in a long while, and it’s a shame Australia is not creating realistic teen shows of a similar standard. Since the conclusion of the ABC’s brilliant 2013 show Dance Academy, and the sole season of 2011 show SLiDE, there have been slim pickings for the teen viewers on Australian telly.
Maybe it’s the 90s nostalgia My Mad Fat Diary evokes, but back in my day (forgive me) we had Heartbreak High, The Genie From Down Under, Escape from Jupiter, Mirror Mirror, Ship to Shore and Sweat. Then there were those based on YA books: Round The Twist (Paul Jennings), Fergus McPhail (David McRobbie), and Lockie Leonard (Tim Winton).
My Mad Fat Diary is proof that YA adaptations are not solely suited to the big screen, and needn’t all be ready-made blockbuster fantasy. Contemporary YA books can translate to excellent TV adaptations, if done right. For what it’s worth, I’d love to see adaptations of Aussie YA titles like The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, Gracie Faltrain, Run and Raw Blue.
YA is the biggest it’s ever been, so it would be worthwhile for teen TV viewers to benefit from the popularity and quality available to the YA readership.