Some works are retold over and over again. Pride and Prejudice has been retold with zombies and from a Bollywood perspective. Beauty and the Beast exists in countless forms, the newest being the live-action version starring Emma Watson. Romeo and Juliet has been turned into musicals about gangs and cartoons about gnomes. When stories become this popular, they aren’t just retold in film; there are dozens of YA retellings of classics and fairytales. For those who have a hard time reading the classics, YA retellings are a more accessible way to look at the story. If you love a classic, a retelling can be a new way to visit characters you adore.
But there are plenty of beloved classics that don’t get the same attention when it comes to retellings. It can be a challenge to convert some of the older stories into new, enjoyable stories that work with the current culture, but YA writers are nothing if not innovative. They continue to find ways to bring classic novels, plays, fairytales, and musicals to life for us to devour.
One recent example is RoseBlood by A. G. Howard, a novel based on The Phantom of the Opera. I remember reading an abridged version when I was in elementary school, sort of an introduction to the story, then actually seeing the movie a few years later. Howard found a way to take the original story, shake off some of the things we wouldn’t see as romantic today – like murder and kidnap – and create a successful, beloved new story. Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine is another retelling of The Phantom of the Opera, but this one twists the story by setting it in a slaughterhouse supposedly haunted by a ghost.
Another example is The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd, a story about the daughter of Dr. Moreau, from H.G. Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau. Juliet is working as a maid after her father’s disappearance, but when she hears rumors that he’s alive and experimenting on a remote island, she goes to search him out and discover the truth. Not only does this adaptation change the perspective of the story, it creates a love triangle for the main character while still holding on to the questions of ethics and science and going too far.
Our favorite, less popular fairytales are getting retold too. One of my favorite retellings is Hold Me Like a Breath, a modern-day interpretation of The Princess and the Pea involving crime families that rule the organ transplant black markets – yeah, you read that correctly. The main character has an autoimmune disorder that causes easy bruising and bleeding, so she’s endlessly coddled by her family, until she’s forced to break out on her own, find her agency, and maybe even fall in love.
There are countless other retellings of lesser known tales in YA. Sway by Kat Spears retells Cyrano de Bergerac; Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund is a sci-fi retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel; Olivia Twisted by Vivi Barnes is a contemporary update of Oliver Twist; Great by Sara J. Benincasa is a queer modern day version of The Great Gatsby. If you find a classic that you love, a YA writer has probably tackled a retelling of it. But if you can’t find it, maybe that just means you have to write it.