YA retold

Fresh adaptations and retellings can be a way to engage readers with (or introduce them to) classics. Here are four retellings that give their original source material new life for a new generation of readers. See also our Summer Reading list, featuring Soman Chainani’s reimagined fairy tale collection Beasts and Beauty; My Fine Fellow, Jennieke Cohen’s gender-swapped version of My Fair Lady; and Emily X. R. Pan’s An Arrow to the Moon, which combined the Chinese legend of Chang’e and Houyi and Romeo and Juliet. Plus there’s our recent interview with Talia Dutton about M Is for Monster, with its nod to Frankenstein; and in our Back-to-School Notes last month, we included Sayantani DasGupta's Debating Darcy, a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice.

The Weight of Blood
by Tiffany D. Jackson
High School    Tegen/HarperCollins    416 pp.    g
9/22    978-0-06-302914-9    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-302916-3    $12.99

Madison Washington has always been bullied because she’s skittish and quiet and dresses in 1950s attire. She tolerates the incessant taunting because she has more to worry about than her small-minded classmates. Maddy is biracial and passing as white in a small Southern town that still has segregated dances, and her abusive father is a religious, conservative fanatic who treats her Black heritage as a sin and forces her to pray in front of photos of white Hollywood stars from the past. Then an unexpected rainstorm causes her flat-ironed hair to rise, revealing that Maddy is not the white girl she has pretended to be, and the bullying intensifies. Meanwhile, a classmate captures a racist incident on video and it goes viral, so student leaders propose an integrated prom to fix the school’s reputation. When several students commit a racist prank against Maddy at prom, they find out that she has another, supernatural secret — one that will result in a deadly incident to be pieced together years later by the true-crime podcast that serves as the book’s framing device. This reimagining of King’s Carrie is a thrilling, unflinching horror narrative that takes on colorism, racism, classism, microaggressions, white saviorism, and respectability politics. A perfect choice for fans of Àbíké-Íyímídé’s Ace of Spades. S. R. TOLIVER

Tin Man
by Justin Madson; illus. by the author
Middle School    Amulet/Abrams    224 pp.    g
4/22    978-1-4197-5104-2    $24.99
Paper ed.  978-1-4197-5105-9    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-6470-0135-3    $15.54

This Wonderful Wizard of Oz–inspired graphic novel creatively explores growing up, loneliness, and loss. Fenn, a boy obsessed with space, finds and brings home the titular Tin Man, whose name is Campbell, after scavenging the local junkyard for scrap metal. The unusual pair becomes friends, but that relationship is overshadowed by the behavior of Fenn’s teen sister, Solar. Formerly studious, Solar has started cutting school and hanging out with a band of slackers, including her possessive boyfriend, Merrick. The bright, angular illustrations emphasize the isolation and yearning felt by the three protagonists as they weather small-town life (which is pretty gloomy, despite several Oz references). Madson creates a rich backstory for Campbell, explaining why he wants a mechanical heart and the circumstances around his decades-long junkyard abandonment. Likewise, readers come to understand Solar’s rebellious behavior, which is rooted in her desire to figure out who she really is in the wake of her beloved grandmother’s death. Everything comes to a head with the obligatory tornado; what will resonate with readers most is the story’s emotional arc. MICHELLE LEE

Bad Girls Never Say Die
by Jennifer Mathieu
High School    Roaring Brook    304 pp.    g
10/21    978-1-250-23258-8    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-250-23259-5    $10.99

This female-focused reimagining of The Outsiders abandons the testosterone-fueled rage and gang mentality of S. E. Hinton’s classic coming-of-age novel and instead examines societal constraints on and violence toward young women, while exploring the bonds and power of girls’ friendships. Mathieu (Afterward, rev. 11/16; Moxie, rev. 11/17) sets her story in 1964 Houston, where Evie, an economically disadvantaged fifteen-year-old, wears the label of “bad girl” as a badge of honor. When Evie is sexually assaulted by Preston, a drunken boy from affluent River Oaks, it is Diane, a “tea-sipper” extraordinaire who left River Oaks in disgrace, who comes to the rescue, inadvertently killing Preston while trying to protect Evie. Evie’s “tuff” friends step up to shield Diane from “the fuzz” — until the brother of one of those friends, who has a romantic history with Diane, is arrested for the murder. Engaging dialogue and melodramatic plot twists keep pages turning as the girls’ unlikely bond is solidified and the star-crossed lovers’ sad story unfolds. This book holds its own as a standalone novel and offers lots of opportunities for discussion as a companion read to Hinton’s. LUANN TOTH

by Marissa Meyer
High School    Feiwel    512 pp.    g
11/21    978-1-250-61884-9    $19.99
e-book ed.  978-1-250-61883-2    $10.99

Every full moon, the demon Erlking and his hunters and hellhounds roam freely, claiming the souls of humans and killing magical creatures for sport. On one such night, eighteen-year-old miller’s daughter Serilda saves two of the Erlking’s potential victims and convinces the demon that she has been “god-blessed” with the gift of spinning straw into gold. (Actually, she has the gift of telling stories, which she does throughout the book, eventually unraveling one of its central ­mysteries.) During the next several full moons, the Erlking forces her to spin gold for him at his castle, where an enigmatic boy named Gild helps her by turning the straw into gold — for a price. This “Rumpelstiltskin” reimagining is rich in worldbuilding, including German-influenced settings and names; relatable heroine Serilda and the cast of supporting characters are equally well drawn. It’s an engrossing (if somewhat overlong) tale of curses, unlikely romance, and family loss revolving around the art of storytelling and its mix of truths and lies. Known for her fairy-tale retellings (Cinder, rev. 1/12, and sequels), Meyer here weaves a significantly grimmer, more violent story — including the murders of several children, the descriptions of which are heartrending and gruesome. However, thanks to the book’s tantalizingly open ending, readers are left with hope for justice in the duology’s promised conclusion. CYNTHIA K. RITTER

From the August 2022 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Horn Book
Horn Book

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