In 1996 in the community of Laurens, South Carolina, an avowed white supremacist named Michael Burden opened a museum celebrating the Ku Klux Klan. The resultant outcry reopened deep wounds and proved a painful reminder of South Carolina’s long history of racism. Left broke and homeless by the backlash, Burden was taken in by an African American reverend and community leader. What follows is an inspiring tale of redemption and grace. The adaptation, starring Garret Hedlund and Academy Award–winner Forest Whitaker, took home the 2018 Audience Award at the Sundance Film festival and is set to hit theaters this year.
Natalie Wood is among the most fascinating figures in Hollywood history. A true star in the classic Hollywood sense, she’s generally ranked alongside the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor as one of the most iconic film actresses of all time. Her tumultuous life—one of extraordinary highs and miserable lows—was punctuated by her mysterious drowning in 1981. With the bombshell revelation in 2018 that the LAPD now considered her husband, Robert Wagner, a person of interest, Wood’s story catapulted back into national news. Now, Suzanne Finstad’s definitive biography of the tortured star is making its way to the screen.
The Flight Attendant
When she wakes up in a Dubai hotel room with no memory of the previous night’s drunken escapades, flight attendant Cassandra Bowden is shocked to discover the man next to her in bed is dead. Afraid to call the police—and with no idea what could have happened—Cassandra begins spinning a web of lies as she tries to piece together what exactly occurred and whether or not she is responsible. This taut bestseller is set for a series adaptation at HBO Max with Kaley Cuoco producing and attached to star. This is the perfect time to pick up the novel before the eight-episode series arrives this fall.
The Rise of Skywalker: Expanded Edition
When it hit theaters in December of 2019, Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker provided the final chapter in the beloved Skywalker saga. However, if you’re not quite ready to move on from this watershed moment in Star Wars lore, the official novelization of Rise of Skywalker is just what you’re looking for. Featuring all-new scenes adapted from never-before-seen material, and with input from the filmmakers themselves, Rise of the Skywalker not only adapts the film but expands on it in some key ways.
This Nick Hornsby classic is now officially a Hulu series starring Zoe Kravitz. If the adaptation has caught your attention, there’s no better time to visit the source material. The novel centers around Rob, a record store owner struggling to keep the doors of his shop open. Pining for his ex, Lauren, Rob seeks solace in his record collection and the decidedly quirky clerks at the store. That is until Lauren re-enters his life and turns everything upside down.
Serving as the basis of the film of the same name, Just Mercy is a powerful and inspiring true story of a young, idealistic lawyer coming face-to-face with the realities of a broken justice system. When Bryan Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative, he set out to help the most vulnerable in a system that habitually seemed to disregard them. However, the case of Walter McMillan, a convicted murderer on death row, would shatter and eventually rebuild Bryan’s belief in what mercy and justice really mean. Just Mercy stars Michael B. Jordan and Academy Award–winners Jamie Foxx and Brie Larson.
A Vast Conspiracy
Jeffrey Toobin, a Harvard-educated attorney and bestselling author, followed up his celebrated account of the O.J. Simpson trial—The Run of his Life, adapted into the FX series The People v. O.J. Simpson—with a skillful investigation of the highly public scandals that nearly derailed a presidency. The Clinton sex scandals held an entire nation in thrall during the late 90s and eventually led to what was then only the second presidential impeachment in US history. Here, Toobin explores every facet of this tumultuous time in a story that was, in many ways, stranger than fiction.
Little Fires Everywhere
Between her book club and her work as both a producer and actress making quality adaptations, Reese Witherspoon has quickly become something of a force in the literary world. Her latest project is an adaptation of Celeste Ng’s bestseller, Little Fires Everywhere. The novel centers around a seemingly idyllic family in a progressive Ohio suburb whose lives are unexpectedly upended by an enigmatic single mother and her teenage daughter. Look for Little Fires Everywhere on Hulu on March 18, starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington.
The Good Lord Bird
This National Book Award–winner tells the story of Henry Shackleford, a young slave in the Kansas Territory in the lead-up to the Civil War. Following a violent altercation between his master and infamous abolitionist John Brown, Henry is forced to flee with Brown, who believes Henry is actually a girl. After months of struggling for survival in Brown’s care, Henry finds himself at the center of the historic and brutal raid on Harper’s Ferry, Brown’s most infamous undertaking and a catalyst for the Civil War. The Good Lord Bird will soon be adapted into a limited series by Showtime, starring Ethan Hawke and up-and-coming actor Joshua Caleb Johnson.
The Call of the Wild and White Fang
There’s a reason Jack London’s tales of adventure and survival have stood the test of time. There’s something universal—and primal—in his adventurous tales of humans and animals braving the elements and the cruelty that can be depressingly inherent to human nature. With a Harrison Ford–led adaptation of The Call of the Wild currently in theaters, an entirely new generation has the perfect opportunity to discover the rousing, suspense-filled worlds of Jack London.
Dune is an unquestioned pillar of sci-fi literature and easily among the most influential sci-fi works of all time. Frank Herbert’s sprawling epic tells the story of Paul Atreides, a young man born to one of the ruling families of the desert planet Arrakis. When his family is betrayed and left to ruin, Paul begins a labyrinthine revenge plot and, in the process, unleashes an uprising with the potential to remake the world as he knows it—or burn it all down. The latest adaptation, led by director Denis Villeneuve and featuring an all-star cast, has fan optimism running high. Fortunately, a December 2020 release date gives you plenty of time to either check out the source material for the first time or revisit it.
There's Someone Inside Your House
Makani Young was just beginning to settle into her new life living with her grandmother in rural Nebraska. She’d made friends, she had a crush, and her dark past finally seemed to be fading away. And then the killings began. As her fellow students fell around her—each slain in increasingly gruesome ways—Makani is forced to confront her past and the secret she’s long held if she is to have any chance at survival. Look for There’s Someone in Your House to arrive on Netflix later this year.
Our Chemical Hearts
This tale of bittersweet teen romance by Krystal Sutherland centers around Henry Page, a self-described hopeless romantic who’s never actually been in love. However, when Grace Town (to be played by Riverdale‘s Lili Reinhart) arrives in his first-period class and joins him as co-editor of the school paper, that all begins to change. Grace was not what Henry expected—she walks with a cane and dresses in oversized clothes—but he’s drawn to her nonetheless, and it’s the complex chemistry between these two that gives the book its spark.
All the Bright Places
Theodore Finch is obsessed with death—specifically the idea of his own. Violet Markey can’t wait to graduate and possibly get out from under the crushing grief of her sister’s death. When the two meet on the ledge of the school bell tower, they discover something to live for in one another. The question is whether young love is enough to mend the pieces of two broken teenagers. Look for the Netflix adaptation starring Elle Fanning and Justice Smith.
The Kissing Booth #2: Going the Distance
The sequel to Beth Reekle’s 2012 hit, The Kissing Booth, continues the story of Elle Evans, the never-been-kissed teen who opened a kissing booth and a fair share of romantic hijinks along with it. Now, she and bad boy Noah Flynn are working out a long-distance relationship. Elle, however, can’t help but notice the new guy in school, Levi. He’s gentle and sweet and totally interested in Elle. Elle’s loyal to Noah, though. But when she discovers that Noah might not be so loyal to her? Well, all bets are off. Look for The Kissing Booth 2 on Netflix later this year, starring Joey King and Molly Ringwald.
Jerry Spinelli’s modern classic tale of first love, nonconformity, and self-expression is set to make its Disney+ premiere on March 13. Based on the bestseller of the same name, Stargirl centers around Leo Borlock and his infatuation with the upbeat—and decidedly offbeat—new student who calls herself Stargirl. While her quirkiness and charisma initially gain her popularity, it’s short-lived. When the student body turns on her, Leo encourages Stargirl to act more “normal” and risk the very thing that makes her he who she is.
While we obviously love a great read here at Read It Forward, we also have an undeniable soft spot for book-to-screen adaptations. We’re even launching a brand new podcast called The Adaptables, which is all about our favorites! Every year brings with it a host of must-watch adaptations to screens big and small. Whether we’re talking an inspiring true story that’s landed in theaters, a beloved classic set for a streaming debut, or a stranger-than-fiction political saga making its way to TV, odds are there’s something here to pique your interest. Then, subscribe to our podcast to hear us chat about some of our favorites—we’re starting Season 1 with Hulu’s Little Fires Everywhere!
Featured Image: @TatianaMara/Twenty20