I think we can all do with some diverse retellings in our lives.
Regardless of whether you think we should be reading classics – read classics, don’t read classics – I can confidently say that I personally enjoy diverse retellings more.
There’s something so compelling and exciting about reading a story that feels familiar but has been given a modern take or a fresh spin, one that is relevant and engaging to younger readers today. There’s also something delicious in that dreaded realisation of ‘wait… this is a retelling… I know how this ought to end’. (I’m looking at you, These Violent Delights.)
This is my very long way of saying: diverse retellings are truly remarkable, and I am so excited to recommend you all some great books that have retold some beloved (and maybe some less loved) classics.
Romeo and Juliet
These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong
This book has taken the literary world by storm with its intoxicating story, phenomenal characters, and pure yearning. New York Times Bestselling Author, Chloe Gong, has given us the ultimate Romeo and Juliet retelling and it places among my top 10 books of 2020.
- Follows Juliette Cai and Roma Montagov, teens on opposing sides of a blood feud in 1920’s Shanghai. When a mysterious madness takes over the city, Juliete and Roma will have to work together to save their city – or there may be no city left to rule.
- A retelling of Romeo and Juliet, this story is action-packed, exciting, nail-biting, and filled with so much tension that you’ll be at the edge of your seat. But, there’s also tender moments too – and plenty of yearning that will leave you aching.
- Reading this book is an absolute emotional rollercoaster and maybe you’ll be suffering by the end, but trust me: you’ll absolutely thank Chloe for it.
More to the Story by Hena Khan
Yes! A retelling of Little Women featuring four precious Muslim Pakistani-American sisters. This middle-grade is an absolute gem, and I loved this retelling so much (and even wrote a review of it)!
- Follows Jameela, a Pakistani Muslim girl who has to deal with some pretty tough stuff in her family while also taking on the big responsibility of being features editor at her school’s newspaper.
- The story also explores friendship, and how our ambitions can sometimes hurt the genuine relationships we have with others. I think this book explores Jameela’s mistake wonderfully, and in a way that is empathetic with great lessons.
- Although this story deals with illness (specifically lymphoma) and no one dies, this book was so wholesome and lovely, and is mostly about what we can to help and support the people we love through a tough time.
Legendborn by Tracey Deonn
Truth be told, I actually haven’t read Legendborn yet, but it’s next up on my to-read list so I’ll be reading it sometime in December! But heck, what’s not to love about this book: a King Arthur retelling featuring a Black girl lead – with magic. Here’s the blurb:
After her mother dies in an accident, sixteen-year-old Bree Matthews wants nothing to do with her family memories or childhood home. A residential program for bright high schoolers at UNC–Chapel Hill seems like the perfect escape—until Bree witnesses a magical attack her very first night on campus.
A flying demon feeding on human energies.
A secret society of so called “Legendborn” students that hunt the creatures down.
And a mysterious teenage mage who calls himself a “Merlin” and who attempts—and fails—to wipe Bree’s memory of everything she saw.
The mage’s failure unlocks Bree’s own unique magic and a buried memory with a hidden connection: the night her mother died, another Merlin was at the hospital. Now that Bree knows there’s more to her mother’s death than what’s on the police report, she’ll do whatever it takes to find out the truth, even if that means infiltrating the Legendborn as one of their initiates.
She recruits Nick, a self-exiled Legendborn with his own grudge against the group, and their reluctant partnership pulls them deeper into the society’s secrets—and closer to each other. But when the Legendborn reveal themselves as the descendants of King Arthur’s knights and explain that a magical war is coming, Bree has to decide how far she’ll go for the truth and whether she should use her magic to take the society down—or join the fight.
Once & Future by A.R. Capetta & Cory McCarthy
Love the idea of a King Arthur retelling set in space, is really queer, where King Arthur’s reincarnation is a girl, and explores some pretty compelling topics about capitalism? Then check out Once & Future.
- Follows Ari, a fugitive refugee from an Arab-settled planet, who pulls the sword Excalibur from a tree – and discovers that she is the 42nd reincarnation of King Arthur.
- I liked that this book was a critique of unfettered and unchecked capitalism, and how dependent people can become in system that is all-encompassing that it becomes intertwined with people’s way of life.
- This is a fast-paced, action-packed book, but it is also packed with drama, adventure, heartbreak, battles, and magic.
Alice in Wonderland
A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney
If you want a dark take on Alice in Wonderland where Wonderland is filled with vicious monsters, where Alice is Black and a warrior, and is super fun, then you must check out this book! (Moreover, you’ll be able to tell that McKinney had a lot of fun writing this – and that’s what makes it delightful.)
- Follows Alice, a Black teen who is a Dreamwalker – a human who slays wicked beings from Wonderland who feeds on negative emotions.
- It’s not only about Alice’s adventures in Wonderland, but it’s also about being a teen and the responsibility of being a hero whilst also being a daughter, a student, a friend, and… just a teen. And it’s fantastic.
- It also has wonderful characters, a developed and interesting close friendship between two girls, and a complex mother-daughter relationship.
A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna
A retelling of the longest epic Sanskrit epics of ancient India, that blends science-fiction and fantasy, I can not recommend one of my all-time favourite books, A Spark of White Fire, enough.
- Follows Esmae, the twin of an exiled prince, who longs to reunite with her family and help them win back their kingdom. Until, of course, this plan falls apart and she’s met with obstacles she could never have anticipated.
- The worldbuilding is gorgeous, put together by a simple but elegant system of gods and technology! It’s a magnificent blend of science-fiction (sentient ships! kingdoms built on space ships!) and fantastical elements (capricious gods and goddesses! celestial weapons!).
- The plot is brilliant, and I was honestly entertained throughout. There’s political intrigue, an organic romance, betrayal, fighting fate and questions of free will, and complex family dynamics.
Pride and Prejudice
Pride by Ibi Zoboi
This modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice is being turned into a movie – and I cannot be more delighted because this book is fantastic.
- Set in modern day Bushwick, New York, Pride follows Tahitian-Dominican teen, Zuri, and her encounter with the Darcy’s; her new rich Black neighbours.
- Pride is a brilliant and much-needed exploration of the gentrification of neighbourhoods and poorer areas, and has great discourse on classism, privilege, and identity.
- Readers will love Zuri; she is unapologetic, honest, ambitious, and real. She isn’t the conventional ‘nice’ protagonist – but that’s fine by me.
Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev
I’m glad I put this list together, because I was reminded that Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors existed! Now, it’s my goal to read this retelling of Pride and Prejudice that follows a rich Indian family descended from royalty. (Fun fact, the author has written two more books that are retellings of Persuasion (A Recipe for Persuasion) and Sense and Sensibility (Incense and Sensibility).
It is a truth universally acknowledged that only in an overachieving Indian American family can a genius daughter be considered a black sheep.
Dr. Trisha Raje is San Francisco’s most acclaimed neurosurgeon. But that’s not enough for the Rajes, her influential immigrant family who’s achieved power by making its own non-negotiable rules:
· Never trust an outsider
· Never do anything to jeopardize your brother’s political aspirations
· And never, ever, defy your family
Trisha is guilty of breaking all three rules. But now she has a chance to redeem herself. So long as she doesn’t repeat old mistakes.
Up-and-coming chef DJ Caine has known people like Trisha before, people who judge him by his rough beginnings and place pedigree above character. He needs the lucrative job the Rajes offer, but he values his pride too much to indulge Trisha’s arrogance. And then he discovers that she’s the only surgeon who can save his sister’s life.
As the two clash, their assumptions crumble like the spun sugar on one of DJ’s stunning desserts. But before a future can be savored there’s a past to be reckoned with…
A family trying to build home in a new land.
A man who has never felt at home anywhere.
And a choice to be made between the two.
Journey to the West
The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee
The story of Sun Wukong is a story that I loved as a child, and The Epic Crush of Genie Lo isn’t just a fantastic and modern retelling that will make you laugh – it’s also one of my favourite books of all time.
- Follows Genie, a Chinese-American teen who just wants to get into a prestigious college, whose city becomes overrun with demons straight out of Chinese folklore – and discovers that she possesses the power to break the very gates of Heaven.
- This book is just incredibly funny, warm, and so charming. If you love silly, deadpan humour, then you’ll delight in The Epic Crush of Genie Lo.
- Action-packed, has a romance, and a very genuine portrayal of the pressures that high schoolers face in the face of college, this, to me, will always be a timeless classic.
Girl Giant and the Monkey King by Van Hoang
This gorgeous retelling of Journey to the West only released this week and I’m so excited to tell you all about it! I haven’t read this yet, but rest assured, I will soon. It sounds like so much fun and so good as well.
Eleven-year-old Thom Ngho is keeping a secret: she’s strong. Like suuuuper strong. Freakishly strong. And it’s making it impossible for her to fit in at her new middle school.
In a desperate bid to get rid of her super strength, Thom makes a deal with the Monkey King, a powerful deity and legendary trickster she accidentally released from his 500-year prison sentence. Thom agrees to help the Monkey King get back his magical staff if he’ll take away her strength.
Soon Thom is swept up in an ancient and fantastical world in where demons, dragons, and Jade princesses actually exist. But she quickly discovers that magic can’t cure everything, and dealing with the trickster god might be more trouble than it’s worth.
Phantom of the Opera
Ruinsong by Julie Ember
When I first learned of this book, I was so excited – I mean, a sapphic retelling of Phantom of the Opera with magic? And then, when I had Julie Ember herself visit us at the Pond during Pride Month and she shared more about Ruinsong, I was thrilled. Shame on me for not having read this year, but you can bet that I will read this soon – and I cannot wait.
Her voice was her prison…
Now it’s her weapon.
In a world where magic is sung, a powerful mage named Cadence has been forced to torture her country’s disgraced nobility at her ruthless queen’s bidding.
But when she is reunited with her childhood friend, a noblewoman with ties to the underground rebellion, she must finally make a choice: Take a stand to free their country from oppression, or follow in the queen’s footsteps and become a monster herself.
Beauty and the Beast
In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard
How cool does a sapphic retelling of Beauty and the Beast with a Vietnamese influences and a Vietnamese cast sound? If you thought ‘VERY!’, then I’m delighted to introduce to you In the Vanishers’ Palace!
In a ruined, devastated world, where the earth is poisoned and beings of nightmares roam the land…
A woman, betrayed, terrified, sold into indenture to pay her village’s debts and struggling to survive in a spirit world.
A dragon, among the last of her kind, cold and aloof but desperately trying to make a difference.
When failed scholar Yên is sold to Vu Côn, one of the last dragons walking the earth, she expects to be tortured or killed for Vu Côn’s amusement.
But Vu Côn, it turns out, has a use for Yên: she needs a scholar to tutor her two unruly children. She takes Yên back to her home, a vast, vertiginous palace-prison where every door can lead to death. Vu Côn seems stern and unbending, but as the days pass Yên comes to see her kinder and caring side. She finds herself dangerously attracted to the dragon who is her master and jailer. In the end, Yên will have to decide where her own happiness lies—and whether it will survive the revelation of Vu Côn’s dark, unspeakable secrets…
Of Curses and Kisses by Sandhya Menon
A young-adult contemporary retelling of Beauty and the Beast, this book takes place in a boarding school and centers on an Indian princess and an Indian boy cursed.
Will the princess save the beast?
For Princess Jaya Rao, nothing is more important than family. When the loathsome Emerson clan steps up their centuries-old feud to target Jaya’s little sister, nothing will keep Jaya from exacting her revenge. Then Jaya finds out she’ll be attending the same elite boarding school as Grey Emerson, and it feels like the opportunity of a lifetime. She knows what she must do: Make Grey fall in love with her and break his heart. But much to Jaya’s annoyance, Grey’s brooding demeanor and lupine blue eyes have drawn her in. There’s simply no way she and her sworn enemy could find their fairy-tale ending…right?
His Lordship Grey Emerson is a misanthrope. Thanks to an ancient curse by a Rao matriarch, Grey knows he’s doomed once he turns eighteen. Sequestered away in the mountains at St. Rosetta’s International Academy, he’s lived an isolated existence—until Jaya Rao bursts into his life, but he can’t shake the feeling that she’s hiding something. Something that might just have to do with the rose-shaped ruby pendant around her neck…
As the stars conspire to keep them apart, Jaya and Grey grapple with questions of love, loyalty, and whether it’s possible to write your own happy ending.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Midsummer Mayhem by Rajani LaRocca
This delightful middle-grade book blends a modern retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with fantastic food descriptions, a baking competition, and gorgeous illustrations by Rachel Suggs.
- Follows Mimi, an Indian-American kid who comes from a big family and loves to bake! When she meets a mysterious boy and a new bakery opens in her sleepy town, wild shenanigans ensue – and it’s up to Mimi to undo the mayhem.
- This story is about friendship and giving things your best shot, and has a light and fun ‘mystery’ element!
- The story explores how children feel left behind by their family’s high-achieving endeavours – and it is so tender-hearted and meaningful too.
Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron
I still remember seeing the book cover for Cinderella is Dead for the first time and literally gasping – and I’ve been wanting to read it ever since. I have this book sitting on my bookshelf, waiting to be read, and given the fact that it’s a Cinderella retelling with a Black sapphic lead – I cannot wait.
It’s 200 years after Cinderella found her prince, but the fairy tale is over. Teen girls are now required to appear at the Annual Ball, where the men of the kingdom select wives based on a girl’s display of finery. If a suitable match is not found, the girls not chosen are never heard from again.
Sixteen-year-old Sophia would much rather marry Erin, her childhood best friend, than parade in front of suitors. At the ball, Sophia makes the desperate decision to flee, and finds herself hiding in Cinderella’s mausoleum. There, she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella and her step sisters. Together they vow to bring down the king once and for all–and in the process, they learn that there’s more to Cinderella’s story than they ever knew . . .
This is How We Fly by Anna Meriano
When Anna Meriano visited us during Latine Heritage Month and told us about her upcoming book, This is How We Fly, loosely based on Cinderella, my curiosity was piqued. This book releases on December 15th, so add this to your wishlist, friends!
17-year-old vegan feminist Ellen Lopez-Rourke has one muggy Houston summer left before college. She plans to spend every last moment with her two best friends before they go off to the opposite ends of Texas for school. But when Ellen is grounded for the entire summer by her (sometimes) evil stepmother, all her plans are thrown out the window.
Determined to do something with her time, Ellen (with the help of BFF Melissa) convinces her parents to let her join the local muggle Quidditch team. An all-gender, full-contact game, Quidditch isn’t quite what Ellen expects. There’s no flying, no magic, just a bunch of scrappy players holding PVC pipe between their legs and throwing dodgeballs. Suddenly Ellen is thrown into the very different world of sports: her life is all practices, training, and running with a group of Harry Potter fans.
Even as Melissa pulls away to pursue new relationships and their other BFF Xiumiao seems more interested in moving on from high school (and from Ellen), Ellen is steadily finding a place among her teammates. Maybe Quidditch is where she belongs.
But with her home life and friend troubles quickly spinning out of control–Ellen must fight for the future that she wants, now she’s playing for keeps.
The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury
The Forbidden Wish, a retelling of Aladdin, feels like a modern classic to me. I read this in 2016, and this book hasn’t left my heart since. I adore this book with my entire being.
- Follows Zahra, a powerful and proud jinni (genie), who is awoken when Aladdin discovers her magical lamp – only to discover that the world she once knew has changed; magic is now forbidden and her very existence illegal.
- I loved that this book is from Zahra’s, the jinni’s, perspective, and her story is told beautifully, magically, and with heartache.
- Though the romance in this book is a wonderful slow-burn, what really stood out was the gorgeous and compelling sisterly relationship between Zahra and queen Roshana.
The Count of Monte Cristo
Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim
Confession: I’ve never read The Count of Monte Cristo (long books intimidate me), but that won’t stop me from reading Scavenge the Stars – a gender-bending retelling about revenge. (And who doesn’t love a good revenge story?)
When Amaya rescues a mysterious stranger from drowning, she fears her rash actions have earned her a longer sentence on the debtor ship where she’s been held captive for years. Instead, the man she saved offers her unimaginable riches and a new identity, setting Amaya on a perilous course through the coastal city-state of Moray, where old-world opulence and desperate gamblers collide.
Amaya wants one thing: revenge against the man who ruined her family and stole the life she once had. But the more entangled she becomes in this game of deception—and as her path intertwines with the son of the man she’s plotting to bring down—the more she uncovers about the truth of her past. And the more she realizes she must trust no one…
Peter Darling by Austin Chant
I read this book three years ago and still remember very distinctly the sheer joy this retelling gave me. This remains to be one of my favourite retellings of all time – and yes, it’s about Peter Pan, who is trans.
- Follows Peter Pan, who left Neverland to grow up, leaving behind his dreams of boyhood behind. Ten years later, he returns to Neverland, only to find that everything has changed.
- This has an enemies-to-lovers romance… and that’s all I’ll say about the romance, other than the fact that I absolutely adored it and it made me feel so whole by the end.
- This retelling retains the magic of the original story while also giving it a fresh, wonderful, and whimsical spin.
Anna K by Jenny Lee
I’ve heard so many wonderful things about Anna K, a retelling of Anna Karenina where the eponymous character is Anna K, a biracial white-Korean-American teen.
Meet Anna K. At seventeen, she is at the top of Manhattan and Greenwich society (even if she prefers the company of her horses and Newfoundland dogs); she has the perfect (if perfectly boring) boyfriend, Alexander W.; and she has always made her Korean-American father proud (even if he can be a little controlling). Meanwhile, Anna’s brother, Steven, and his girlfriend, Lolly, are trying to weather a sexting scandal; Lolly’s little sister, Kimmie, is struggling to recalibrate to normal life after an injury derails her ice dancing career; and Steven’s best friend, Dustin, is madly (and one-sidedly) in love with Kimmie.
As her friends struggle with the pitfalls of ordinary teenage life, Anna always seems to be able to sail gracefully above it all. That is…until the night she meets Alexia “Count” Vronsky at Grand Central. A notorious playboy who has bounced around boarding schools and who lives for his own pleasure, Alexia is everything Anna is not. But he has never been in love until he meets Anna, and maybe she hasn’t, either. As Alexia and Anna are pulled irresistibly together, she has to decide how much of her life she is willing to let go for the chance to be with him. And when a shocking revelation threatens to shatter their relationship, she is forced to question if she has ever known herself at all.
Here are some upcoming diverse retellings!
Persuasion: Where the Rhythm Takes You by Sarah Dass
Seventeen-year-old Reyna has spent most of her life at her family’s gorgeous seaside resort in Tobago, the Plumeria. But what once seemed like paradise is starting to feel more like purgatory. It’s been two years since Reyna’s mother passed away, two years since Aiden – her childhood best friend, first kiss, first love, first everything – left the island to pursue his music dreams. Reyna’s friends are all planning their futures and heading abroad. Even Daddy seems to want to move on, leaving her to try to keep the Plumeria running.
And that’s when Aiden comes roaring back into her life – as a VIP guest at the resort.
Aiden is now one-third of DJ Bacchanal – the latest, hottest music group on the scene. While Reyna has stayed exactly where he left her, Aiden has returned to Tobago with his Grammy-nominated band and two gorgeous LA socialites. And he may (or may not be) dating one of them…
Peter Pan: Darling by K. Ancrum
On Wendy Darling’s first night in Chicago, a boy called Peter appears at her window. He’s dizzying, captivating, beautiful—so she agrees to join him for a night on the town.
Wendy thinks they’re heading to a party, but instead they’re soon running in the city’s underground. She makes friends—a punk girl named Tinkerbelle and the lost boys Peter watches over. And she makes enemies—the terrifying Detective Hook, and maybe Peter himself, as his sinister secrets start coming to light. Can Wendy find the courage to survive this night—and make sure everyone else does, too?
Acclaimed author K. Ancrum has re-envisioned Peter Pan with a central twist that will send all your previous memories of J. M. Barrie’s classic permanently off to Neverland.
Peter Pan: Sisters of the Neversea by Cynthia Leitich Smith
Note: The two step-sister protagonists are Native-American and British!
Stepsisters Lily and Wendy embark on a high-flying journey of magic, adventure, and courage—to a fairy-tale island known as Neverland.
Lily and Wendy have been best friends since they became stepsisters. But with their feuding parents planning to spend the summer apart, what will become of their family—and their friendship?
Little do they know that a mysterious boy has been watching them from the oak tree outside their window. A boy who intends to take them away from home for good, to an island of wild animals, Merfolk, Fairies, and kidnapped children.
A boy who calls himself Peter Pan.
Four retellings coming our way!
We covered this in Issue #36 of The Pond Book News, but in case you missed it:
- Spring 2021: Treasure Island — C.B. Lee (Not Your Sidekick)
- Fall 2021: Little Women — Bethany C. Morrow (A Song Below Water)
- Winter 2022: Robin Hood — Aminah Mae Safi (Tell Me How You Really Feel)
- Spring 2022: Wuthering Heights — Tasha Suri (Empire of Sand)
Thank you all so much for joining us at the Pond today! I hope you all found a new book to add to your to-read list. While classics have their place in literature, I also feel like retellings are such a fun and refreshing ways to reinvigorate literature, a way to tell stories that have endured across time in ways that will be relevant and meaningful to younger readers.
- Did you discover a new book today? What will you be adding to your to-read list?
- Have you read any of these? Which ones do you recommend to others as well?
- Did I miss any books? Tell us what else we should add to the list!