Revival of the Classics: Putting a Modern Twist on YA Literature

As an English major, I’ve been assigned to read many books, most often ones published prior to the 21st century.  With the rise of Young Adult novels, many authors are to taking classics and writing their own spin on them for teen readers--whether it be a more modern rendition, or a rewrite from a different perspective than the original. Here are a few of my favourite retellings that have come out in the past few years.


The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand

          The Afterlife of Holly Chase is a retelling of A Christmas Carol.  Instead of being told from an elderly man’s perspective, readers follow Holly Chase, a spoiled 17-year old girl, who is met by the 3 ghosts. Unlike Ebenezer Scrooge, she brushes them off, which doesn’t have the best result for her. Instead of following the ghosts’ warnings throughout her life, she rejects them, changing the original storyline. She is recruited in the afterlife to join the ‘Scrooge Project’, spending every Christmas Eve saving miserable grouches and changing their ways through the form of one of the ghosts. Everything changes when she meets one Scrooge who is very similar to her, who she must save to save herself.


The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

           Believe it or not, this whole series provides a retelling of classic fairy tales, including Cinderella (Cinder), Little Red Riding Hood (Scarlet), Rapunzel (Cress), and Snow White (Winter).  Each tale deviates from the original, mostly as they follow the life of Cinder, a cyborg. Plus, the series has a sci-fi setting. In Cinder, the main character is smart, with a complicated past life that affects her present, and instead of losing her shoe,  she loses her foot. Each book follows this pattern, changing the story to suit the character, and presenting a princess who kicks butt instead of waiting for a prince to save her.


Olivia Twist by Lorie Langdon

           The major change between Dickens’ novel and Langdon’s is the change of the gender of the main character. Instead of being raised as a female, Olivia pretends to be a boy, working among London gangs as a way to survive the streets. She is tough and cunning, and doesn’t let anyone walk over her. Her life changes when she is adopted by her uncle and thrust into a lavish lifestyle, but she can’t stop assisting the orphans still left on the street. A similarity between the two novels would be the gang called the Artful Dodger: the name of a thief in the original tale. By changing the main character, the novel presents different issues that the original character of Oliver Twist didn’t encounter.


A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

           Instead of a retelling, this tale follows the modern descendants of the great Sherlock Holmes and Watson: Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson. The book is set at a prep school in America, not England. While the character of Sherlock has a gender flip, Charlotte encompasses his most memorable traits, such as intellect, temperament, and moving at a faster pace than those around her.  She is forced to train like a Holmes, which plays an important part in how she lives at the school. Jamie is more of an open book: honest, and kind-- she’s the one to balance out Charlotte. In relation to the original, they both follow the detective path, and the characters must find out who killed someone and why.


Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

           What happens after Dorothy returns back to Kansas? In Paige’s retelling, she finds her way back to Oz and takes full control over the kingdom, destroying everything that once was. The tale follows Amy Gumm, a girl left in Kansas, as she sets out to stop Dorothy and save the day. This retelling follows a more dark and bloody path than the original. Amy is sarcastic and has a quick wit that often gets her in trouble, and her sidekick is a pet rat named Star. Amy has had a hard life, growing up abandoned by her family. Also, instead of meeting friendly sidekicks like the Lion, the Tin-Man, and the Scarecrow, she encounters more evil characters. But she also meets those who wish for her to stop the ruler and return Oz back to how it was.


A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

           While you may know the tale of Beauty and the Beast, this tale takes it and provides a fantasy twist. Prince Rhen has a spell cast on him, but unlike the original Beast, Rhen only turns at the end of each autumn. Harper Lacy, the modern Belle, has a dying mother instead of a father. She is also struggling to prove herself as she has Cerebral Palsy, which is an important change from the classic tale. Finally, instead of galloping through the woods and vowing to trade her life for her father’s, Harper travels through a magic passage that takes her from Washington to Emberfall. Much like the original, Harper is tough and strong. She doesn’t allow a prince to fully control her, but she still assists in breaking the curse.


Do you have a favourite retelling?