Real-world takes on classics, fairy tales, and even historical lore might not be as common as fantasy versions, but that’s what makes it so cool when an author pulls them off. Whether it’s turning famous literary heroes and historical figures into teens, diversifying the works of Shakespeare and Austen, or turning political work on its head in high school, here are six new books that spin familiar stories in the most delightful ways possible.
Pride, by Ibi Zoboi
No, this blog hasn’t turned into a fansite for Zoboi’s Brooklyn-set remix of Pride & Prejudice…officially, anyway. But this book deserves all the shouting we give it and then some, with it’s Afro-Latinx charactered, gentrification-themed take on the extremely white Austen classic. Zuri has no interest in the Darcy family, who’ve just moved in across the street; they’re exactly the kind of people she doesn’t want to see invading Bushwick, even if they do have exceptionally attractive sons, and even if one of those sons immediately captures her sister’s heart. There’s just no redeeming the snobby and judgmental Darius, no matter how hot he is…is there?
Nothing Happened, by Molly Booth
Much Ado About Nothing takes a queer turn into summer camp in this sophomore novel by an author who’s already got some experience messing with Shakespeare. The comedic drama (dramatic comedy?) all surrounds sisters Bee and Hana Leonato, whose family has been running Camp Dogberry forever. It’s always been a safe haven, but it doesn’t feel quite so safe to Bee to have to confront her feelings after last summer’s near-miss with fellow counselor Ben. As for Hana, she’s crushing hard on Claudia, who definitely seems to reciprocate, until troublemakers Donald and John get into the mix to try to keep them apart. If bravery and honesty prevail and truth can find its way out, this just might be the best summer yet. But with these kids, it’s a very big If.
I, Claudia, by Mary McCoy
Some stories prove to be ripe for frequent retellings in YA, like Shakespeare or fairy tales or Austen. But I, Claudius, the famous fictionalized biography of Claudius, overlooked for his physical disabilities until his survival through massive amounts of intrigue and murder see him become emperor of Rome? That is definitely a rarer move, and McCoy does it with aplomb. Claudia stutters and limps, and it’s her sister everyone seems impressed by, but when her greatest enemy pushes her into a student senate position, Claudia begins to see all the benefits of power, and the ways she can finally make a difference. But at Imperial Day, power is a thing that is neither won nor kept through kindness, and rising in the ranks may lead to unforetold consequences.
Lizzie, by Dawn M. Ius
Not so much a retelling as a reimagining, this haunting contemporary take on the life of Lizzie Borden, the girl who allegedly killed her father and stepmother with an axe, sees the titular character as an abused assistant in her parents’ bed-and-breakfast, suffering from a mental illness brought on by her first period that blocks out spaces in her memory. When beautiful new maid Bridget shows up at the door, it’s the first bit of sunshine Lizzie’s ever had in her life, especially as their relationship grows into a romance. Through Bridget, Lizzie finds the strength to stand up for herself a little more, and the more her parents try to restrict her, the angrier she gets, leading to even more blackout spells. And when her parents are found dead, of course, Lizzie doesn’t remember a thing…
Sometime After Midnight, by L. Philips
Many have taken on Cinderella, but none quite like this, mixing it up with #AlexFromTarget and centering it on social media, the music world, and an extremely cute but fraught gay romance. (Not fraught because gay, either, just to be clear. While a past suicide is an aspect of the book, from a queer perspective, this novel is a definite happy place.) When Nate and Cameron meet at a club, it’s chemistry at first sight—chemistry that quickly fizzles for Nate once he learns that Cameron’s the son of the music mogul who destroyed Nate’s father’s life. But Cameron can’t stop thinking about the boy who ran out on him, the boy whose only identifying feature he got on camera are his artfully Sharpied Chucks. Thanks to his sister’s huge social media following, it takes no time at all to track Nate down. But with complications like these, finding the owner of the metaphorical glass slipper is only the beginning.
The Case for Jamie, by Brittany Cavallaro
The third book in this genderflipped take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock-and-Watson stories of yore sees Charlotte Holmes and narrator Jamie Watson still avoiding each other a year after a shocking death and betrayal tore them apart. They know it’s the right thing to keep their distance, but there’s clearly someone else out there who doesn’t see it that way, and in order to save their own lives, they’re going to have to get the band back together, no matter what ugliness still lies between them. For those of us who’ve been falling in love with the complex duo one brilliant book at a time, it’s a relief to see Charlotte and Jamie have to mend fences, regardless of whether or not it’s by choice, but the very best thing about this book? Turns out, it won’t be the last, as the series got extended for a fourth book, A Question of Holmes, which releases March 5.