In 2007, Diablo Cody won over adults and teens alike with her Academy Award-winning screenplay for “Juno” — bringing terms like “food baby” and “honest to blog” into the mainstream lexicon. Her new film “Young Adult” — starring Charlize Theron as a YA author who can’t seem to let go of her past — opens in some cities this weekend and wide on December 16. Cody is no stranger to the world of young adults — she’s just adapted “Sweet Valley High” for the big screen. Bookish talked to her about youth culture, the mall generation and why grown women are flocking to the YA section at their local bookstore.
Bookish: Were you a big fan of young adult books as a kid? Is that where you found inspiration for “Young Adult,” which is about a woman who can’t seem to mature past adolescence?
DC: The movie itself is not so much about books but there are some parallels to young adult fiction. I grew up readings those books and loving them.
Bookish: I’ve noticed that there’s this huge trend of grown women reading young adult books regularly. Youth culture has permeated into the mainstream. What do you think that says about grown women today and how we feel about our youth?
DC: I think it’s something that’s happening to men, too. I think it was a trend story with men first because it always is. Eventually, people started paying attention and they realized that women are experiencing some pop culture arrested development as well. And I don’t know why that is. I think part of it is access. I think we have access to the stuff that we enjoyed in our youth now in a way that maybe prior generations didn’t because we can just go online and find it.
Bookish: One of the interesting theories I’ve heard is that women are carrying over the insecurities from high school into their adult life.
DC: That’s definitely a theme in the movie.
Bookish: Whether you’re trying to be cool in high school or trying to be the cool mom on the playground, some things don’t change.
DC: I don’t think coolness used to be such a commodity among adults. And now it is. When I was growing up, the moms on the playground had pants pulled up to their boobs and curlers in their hair. And now, when I take my son to the playground, there is this weird clique mentality; you still have to be hot. And you still have to be “with it.” I think everybody’s in this state of sustained adolescence.
Bookish: Do you think those feelings of insecurity from adolescence ever really go away?
DC: No, it doesn’t. I wrote a screenplay for a “Sweet Valley High” adaptation, and it’s really amazing to me how many women who are my age have responded to the idea and are excited about the movie.
Bookish: How did you get involved with rebooting “Sweet Valley?”
DC: I had declared in several interviews that “Sweet Valley High” was my dream project. I had never adapted a prior work before. That turned out to be a really positive thing because then when the opportunity arose, when the property became available, I was able to just kind of throw myself in there and be like, “Oh, look, I’ve got dibs.” So when I had the opportunity to meet with Francine and kind of convince her that [I was right for the project], it was an amazing day for me. I met her at the Beverly Hills Hotel and I thought, ‘I can’t believe I’m sitting at this pink hotel. This is like my childhood fantasy.’
Bookish: Those books were such a portrait of the times and the mall generation. So much has changed.
DC: What’s considered cool has really changed, too. Like I don’t know if somebody like Jessica would be really popular or beloved these days because to borrow a phrase from the ’80s, I think it’s more “hip to be square.” I think Enid would be the most popular girl in school now. Everybody wants to be quirky.
Bookish: In getting ready for “Sweet Valley” and researching YA writers for “Young Adult,” did you read a bunch of modern teen fiction?
DC: I read the Hunger Games. Those are fantastic. I also, just for the sake of cultural literacy, have read the Twilight series.
Bookish: You’ve written a memoir (“Candy Girl”). What is more satisfying: Finishing your book or finishing a screenplay?
DC: I do think writing a book is more difficult. It’s so much more difficult. I always say when you write a book, you’re a “one-man band.” Whereas, when you finish a screenplay, it’s just a sketch. A director comes in and creates a story out of that. I’ve come to find more satisfaction and enjoyment in writing screenplays over the years because that’s what I do primarily now. But I definitely felt a bone-deep sense of satisfaction when I finished “Candy Girl,” despite the fact that it is a frilly book: It’s not “The Corrections.” But there’s just something about writing a book; it’s so dense, it’s so personal and it’s so difficult.