When it comes to YA retellings, the nostalgia factor is real—at least for adult readers like myself. I can’t seem to resist a fresh take on a familiar story, when authors take beloved and well-known tales but center an unexpected background character or write a new happy ending absent from the original but longed for by readers. I’m particularly fond of retellings with unexpected settings, gender-swapped roles, or surprising plot changes that allow us to approach these stories as if for the first time by injecting them with new and sometimes altogether different meanings and morals.
Today’s book list includes twists on classics, fairytales, and myths, both familiar and new, and all from the YA authors. While the reading options below are abundant, our incomplete list offers just a small sampling of all the YA retellings out there. (We could have put together a list solely composed of retellings based on Pride and Prejudice or Beauty and the Beast !) We’ve left room for your favorites: if you have a favorite YA retelling or three, please tell us all about them in the comments section.
Each book in the YA fantasy series The Lunar Chronicles puts a new spin on an old fairy tale. In this first installment, Cinderella becomes a kickass mechanic, despised by her mother and stepsisters because she’s a cyborg. Though it’s clear where the story is headed, spotting the imaginative ways Meyer reinvents the old fairy tale keeps the reader turning the pages. Fresh, fun, surprising, and compulsively readable. I loved these first as an adult reader, and then my tween and teen daughters blew through the whole series. More info →
This inventive retelling of Robin Hood focuses on Will Scarlet, who is not only one of Robin’s best thieves, she’s also a girl. (Gasp!) She has reasons for hiding her identity—and they’re about to be put to the test now that thief taker Lord Gisbourne is on the prowl. Will she put herself first or the people of Nottingham she’s sworn to protect? Scarlet grows tremendously across the trilogy, making for a satisfying reading experience. More info →
This puts such a fun spin on the classic Sherlock Holmes stories. Jamie Watson transfers to fancy Connecticut prep school Sherringford on a rugby scholarship, and there he he meets the eccentric Charlotte Holmes. Charlotte seems to have inherited her great-great-great grandfather’s keen eye and unpredictable temperament, so Jamie decides to avoid her. However, when they’re suspected of murdering a fellow classmate, Jamie and Charlotte must team up—much like their ancestors—and solve the case in order to clear their names. Clever and witty, you’ll want to keep reading the whole series. More info →
A Pride and Prejudice “remix” that envisions Darcy and Lizzie as two Brooklyn teens. First line: “It’s a truth universally acknowledged that when rich people move into the hood, where it’s a little bit broken and a little bit forgotten, the first thing they want to do is clean it up.” Zuri Benitez is the second daughter of a large Haitian-Dominican family that has lived forever on their block in Bushwick. When Darius Darcy pulls up to the expensively renovated mini-mansion across the street in a blacked-out SUV, she immediately hates him and the gentrification he represents. But Austen fans know that’s only the beginning of the story. Hot tip: Elizabeth Acevedo narrates the audiobook, and it is incredible. More info →
This clever twist on Beauty and the Beast
features Harper, a modern-day 17-year-old girl who is going through a terrible time when she gets sucked right into a fantasy world. There she encounters Prince Rhen, heir to the throne of Emberfall, who is cursed, turns into a beast, and destroys everything he holds dear. (Sound familiar?). This retelling is delightfully modern, features a character with cerebral palsy, and straddles reality and fantasy in a refreshing way. More info →
A brilliantly imagined fairy tale inspired by the Persian epic the Shahnameh, featuring dangerous demons, poisonous girls, and a kingdom in peril. The cursed princess Soraya has been living inside her family’s palace walls—touching no one—for eighteen years. As her twin brother’s wedding day approaches, the palace guards capture a demon who may be able to tell her how to break the curse and gain her freedom. But the answers she seeks plunge her into personal crisis and political intrigue, and Soraya is soon forced to question everything she thought she knew about herself—while facing choices that may endanger not just her own fate, but that of the entire kingdom. An enthralling fantasy with broad appeal, with lyrical prose and incredible worldbuilding. More info →
This ambitious Rumpelstiltskin
retelling works in other recognizable elements from Eastern European folklore while building a beautifully unique world while tackling timely themes and putting her own mark on this enchanting story. This updated version presents a tale of two kingdoms, an impossible challenge, a peasant girl, and a high-stakes quest. With six different narrators, it may take you a few chapters to get acclimated, but your patience will be rewarded. I love magical reads that pack a dose of realism, and this one delivers. More info →
This sophisticated “remixed” classic keeps the familial love of Louisa Alcott’s Little Women
and sheds the rest to tell a new story of four Black sisters starting over in 1863 North Carolina. In her fresh and nuanced version, Morrow moves the March family south to the Freedpeople Colony on Roanoke Island, where they’re recovering from the trauma of enslavement (which Morrow offers glimpses of) and struggling to build new lives. The irrepressible March sisters—teacher Meg, writer Jo, seamstress Beth, and dancer Amy—are vividly characterized. Morrow retains many of the young women’s personality traits from the original, while plunging them into new situations and challenges in the colony. The sisters’ love anchors the story throughout, giving the book a gentle feel though Morrow’s update deftly tackles painful topics as she sheds light on a lesser-known chapter of American history. Don’t miss the author’s note. This is the May 2022 selection for Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club
. More info →
This deliciously dark retelling draws inspiration from many well-known fairy tales. Liesl grew up hearing about the Goblin King who goes out riding in search of his bride. When the Goblin King steals her sister, she has no choice but to go after her. Liesl decides to make the ultimate sacrifice: her life for her sister’s. She’ll stay Underground and marry the Goblin King instead. It’s not long before she discovers it’s not the sacrifice she thought it would be and that there’s so much more to the Goblin King than she realized. More info →
You don’t need to be familiar with the Korean legend of the gumiho (nine-tailed fox who devours the energy of men) to appreciate this story. Miyoung guards the secret of her gumiho identity at all costs. When she sees Jihoon being attacked by a goblin, she violates the rules of secrecy to protect him and loses her fox bead—her very soul—in the process. Prickly Miyoung and good-natured Jihoon have to band together while they figure out how to reunite her fox bead with her body but neither are prepared for what it might cost. Bold choices make this difficult to put down. More info →
This is a YA space opera retelling of the Sanskrit epic the Mahabrahata
. No one knows Princess Esmae is still alive until she wins a competition and comes back to her family’s kingdom to claim what’s hers. She’s back for the sake of her family, even if her estranged family doesn’t see it that way. It’s about love and belonging and how to cope when your allegiance is torn. Plus, there’s a sentient warship(!!!) named Titania. This is a fun, fast-paced read that several MMD team members have loved. More info →
In this genderbent retelling of Oliver Twist
, Olivia is both a hard-scrabbling orphan posing as a boy and a lady trying to figure out where she belongs now that her uncle has taken her in. It’s hard to escape her past, however. She steals small trinkets from the wealthy while she’s at their parties, then hocks them so she can give food and money to some orphaned boys she looks after. While at one such party, Olivia immediately recognizes the Artful Dodger who took her under his wing but Jack only ever knew her as the boy Ollie and has no idea who she’s become, even if she does seem familiar. There’s danger and intrigue and you’ll fly through the pages to see whether this version of the story gets a happy ending. More info →
What are your favorite YA retellings? Please tell us all about them in the comments section!
P.S. 13 excellent young adult historical novels for readers of any age, 20 spellbinding fairytale retellings to get lost in, and 20 books inspired by Greek mythology and Classic texts.
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