Spider-Man: Homecoming combined two of my favorite things in one fantastic film: Young Adult stories and super-hero films. With its young cast, general teen aesthetic reminiscent of a John Hughes classic, and high school setting complete with an actual school dance, Tom Holland’s Spider-man really became the perfect YA version of a Superhero movie. Since I know a bit about YA novels—I’ve been reviewing and working in the YA space for about six years now—I can attest to what makes a good one and Spider-Man: Homecoming and Peter’s overall character arc featured all of the great hallmarks of my favorite well-written YA.
When I found out that one of my favorite writers on the internet and fellow Spidey fan, Preeti Chhibber was writing a lead-in to the Spiderman: Homecoming sequel, Far from Home, I was so excited to read a novel set in the YA crossover/kidlit space. Ned, Peter and MJ are perfect characters to introduce to young readers, especially teen readers who are just getting into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Personally, I would have loved to see an intelligent, social justice informed character like MJ in a movie when I was younger. I’m glad younger fans have her as a role model.
And if you haven’t checked it out, Preeti’s debut, Peter and Ned’s Ultimate Travel Journal, is a wonderful, fun and very in-character tie-in novel. Just in time for Far From Home’s release in a few weeks, you can read my interview with Preeti about what makes Spider-Man: Homecoming the ultimate YA story below.
Enjoy and then make sure you go out and get Peter and Ned’s Ultimate Travel Journal at your local bookstore or library!
TYF: First of all, as someone who has worked in children’s publishing and is now writing young adult novels herself, what do you think makes a good YA story/movie? And do you think every YA movie needs to be a coming of age story?
Preeti Chhibber: I think there are a lot of things that make for a good YA story — but some of the most interesting YA I’ve read recently feature young women who allow themselves to feel, and the writing never makes us think that they’re weak for feeling. I do think YA should involve coming of age because part of what makes it YA is being in that moment… coming to terms with yourself and where you fit in the world.
TYF: Spider-Man, especially Tom Holland’s version, seems to be universally loved and accepted. People seem to really connect and identify with him. Do you think the coming of age aspect to his story has to do with that?
PC: I’ll be honest, at first I was a little weary of getting another Spider-Man movie set in high school… but the difference with Homecoming is that they did lean into that idea. The movie’s not about romance, or Peter’s relationship to his powers, it’s about him figuring out who he is and where he belongs. And I do think it’s what a lot of viewers responded to because who doesn’t remember being in that space?
TYF: How do you think the superhero/Avengers element adds to the coming of age/YA aspect of the movie?
PC: Well, there are so many different genres represented in young adult, from fantasy to science fiction to realistic — so I think the way that the super hero aspects of the film add to the coming of age-ness of it… it’s an additional set of obstacles that Spider-Man has to deal with. Something that’s so wonderful in YA, is how everything is just the Biggest Deal and The Best or Worst Thing Ever. But in Homecoming it is the biggest deal. Peter was correct in realizing that the threat of the Vulture was way bigger than Tony realized.
TYF: Homecoming has a very John Hughes feel to it, especially in terms of the aesthetics–why do you think that feel is so timeless and what draws people to it?
PC: John Hughes created the blueprint for the modern American media ideal of what high school was like. You can see a thread from him to movies like 10 Things I Hate About You or She’s All That to shows like Riverdale… and so with Homecoming, I actually think they stepped away from Hughes’ representation of high school, which was very segregated (both in terms of label and representation). Homecoming has a very authentic feel to it, which is what I think drew people to it. This felt like a high school you could have gone to.
TYF: Your debut novel Peter and Ned’s Ultimate Travel Journal was just released as a lead in to Far From Home. What drew you to these characters and made you want to write about them?
PC: One of the things I’ve spent my career doing is championing children’s lit, because honestly, there’s nothing better than kids loving books. So, I’m so excited to get to write Peter Parker (as he is one of my absolute favorite characters), and Ned, and MJ in this case because they’re kids having fun. This book was so fun to write.
TYF: How do you think Homecoming subverts or highlights the popular YA tropes (i.e. dead parents, disappointed mentor)?
PC: I think by bypassing Peter’s origin story, they manage to avoid the dead parent trope. I think the disappointed mentor trope is subverted by what I mentioned above — Peter was right. Tony was wrong. This wasn’t about Peter learning a lesson from his elders, this was about him learning to be confident in his own abilities and learning to trust his instincts. It was about being comfortable as a friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man not because it’s what Tony said he should, but because it’s what his neighborhood needs. It’s very mature in that way.
TYF: An aspect of Homecoming that I love and that we get to see in your book, is the bits where May and the adults in his life (Happy, for example) are present and supportive. A trope in YA that gets picked at is the “dead or absent parent trope.” Do you think having adult role-models enhances the YA element of the story?
PC: I think it depends on the story. Some stories do better without parents, some do better with — the MCU’s Peter works best with his support system, especially now that we know where the film lies in the continuity. He’s going through a lot.
TYF: I love how you showcase more of MJ and Ned’s personalities (I want all MJ’s tee-shirts and I also love her book recommendations) in the Ultimate Travel Journal. The fact that we get to see the teens that Peter surrounds himself with in Homecoming whereas in the previous versions we see Peter as a more solitary character, creates a type of ensemble teen story. Do you agree? What about Tom Holland’s Peter Parker, makes the appearance of these characters and their closeness to him easier to understand? Is it because there are already some adults that share his secret?
PC: When I saw Homecoming it felt very much like the Peter Parker of the MCU was heavily influenced by Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man series. It’s a running joke that Peter cannot keep his “secret” identity a secret from anyone. He tells Mary Jane thirteen issues in! Even in The Amazing Spider-Man comics, while Peter’s more solitary, he still has close friends and family, some of whom know his secret. So the MCU’s Peter feels like he’s fulfilling the character’s written destiny in some way. In the movie, it absolutely allows for a little bit more of an ensemble piece (though not to the extent of some of those teen movies listed above), MJ and Ned are both really strong characters in their own right, so I’m excited to see where Far From Home takes them!
Peter and Ned’s Ultimate Travel Journal is now available where books are sold. Spider-Man: Far From Home swings into theaters on July 2.