6 Great YA Retellings of Classics

Across A Star Swept Sea

There’s something magical about retellings, the way they build a brand-new body on old, familiar bones. They can have a change of genre, a change of gender, a change of era, but they always keep a foothold in the source material, adding a whole other layer if you’re familiar with the original. The young adult category has plenty of great retellings, especially in the realms of fairytales (Ash by Malinda Lo, Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge) and Jane Austen (For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, everything by Claire LaZebnik), but here are a few more favorites from across the classics spectrum.

Great, by Sara J. Benincasa
If I hadn’t been excited enough at the prospect of reading a contemporary YA retelling of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 classic, The Great Gatsby, the fact that Benincasa wrote it with a female Gatsby and a same-sex romance definitely put me over the top. It’s an impressively close retelling, artfully brought into the modern age via blogging and the Hamptons. Readers of the original will easily spot the parallels, and the characterizations of Gatsby, Daisy, Jordan, and the rest are transferred so well to their teen counterparts, you might forget that The Great Gatsby didn’t feature adolescents in the first place.

Olivia Twisted, by Vivi Barnes
Dickens’ famous orphaned thief gets a gender swap and some hardcore hacking skills in this contemporary update of Oliver Twist. What really makes this one worth the read, though, is the foster care aspect, rarely touched upon in YA despite being a very important reality for many teens. And, okay, hot love interest Z, who stands in for the Artful Dodger, isn’t too bad either.

Tiger Lily, by Jodi Lynn Anderson
There are a great many retellings of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, but this the most intriguing and unusual version I’ve read so far. The story is not told by the titular character, but rather through the eyes of Tinker Bell as she follows the strong, fierce, enigmatic Tiger Lily through Neverland, where she resides with her adoptive genderqueer father. This is one of those books you don’t want to talk about too much for fear of giving anything away or informing reader opinion, but it’s a dark, fascinating interpretation of the tale and relationships within.

Scarlet, by A.C. Gaughen
I can’t take the credit for recommending this Robin Hood reimagining in which the role of Will Scarlet belongs to a woman in disguise; it was literally thrust into my hands by a bookseller friend, who demanded that it jump to the top of my to-read list. Given that the illustrated version for kids was one of my all-time favorites growing up, and considering the raves I’ve heard over both this one and its recent sequel, The Lady Thief, adding it to my list was an easy decision.

Across a Star-Swept Sea, by Diana Peterfreund
This gender-swapped, sci-fi/dystopian retelling of Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlett Pimpernel is another one at the top of my to-read list, just as soon as I finish its abovementioned predecessor, For Darkness Shows the Stars. (The two are companions, and in fact stand alone, but I’m nothing if not neurotic about this sort of thing.) Peterfreund made herself a must-buy for me years ago with her Ivy League series, and I look forward to seeing what she’s done here.

When the Stars Go Blue, by Caridad Ferrer
Okay, so the opera Carmen isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when you think of “classics,” but I’m gonna sneak this dance-themed retelling on here anyway. (Because really, what are the odds we’ll have a “Best YA Retellings of Operas” post anytime soon?) Full of passion and pain, this twisted love story-turned-triangle is an interesting take on the tragic tale of beguiling romance and envy taken too far.

What is your favorite retelling of a classic?

  • Devin DeVries

    I really enjoyed For Darkness Shows the Stars and Scarlet. Excited to read more by those authors. The Lunar Chronicles is another fun series based on fairy tale characters.

  • Bridgette

    I very much LOVED the Lunar Chronicles, reminded me of the tv series Once Upon A Time meets Star Wars meets Terminator. Bummed that the final and 4th installment doesn’t come out until next year.

  • Hannah Blessing

    I love the Once Upon a Time series, and Grimm, which are both based on classic fairy tales. And I’m really loving the new Hobbit movies, very exciting! I like to actually read the classics. For real.