The best YA books retelling the classics

Zoë Markham Author Of Under My Skin
By Zoë Markham

Who am I?

In my previous role as a teacher, I often encountered teens who never, ever read outside of school – and hated having to read in school. Finding YA retellings of the classics became an indispensable tool for me in terms of not only linking the past with the present for the young adults in my classes, but also in terms of helping them see themselves in fiction, finding representation there, and discovering their own importance. It opened up whole worlds for all of us, and offered a pathway to a love of reading that I hope they will never forget!

I wrote...

Under My Skin

By Zoë Markham,

Book cover of Under My Skin

What is my book about?

What if we’re all monsters, on the inside?

Chloe was once a normal girl. Until the night of the car crash that nearly claimed her life. Now Chloe’s mother is dead, her father is a shell of the man he used to be and the secrets that had so carefully kept their family together are falling apart. A new start is all Chloe and her father can hope for, but when you think you’re no longer human how can you ever start pretending?

The Books I Picked & Why

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This Poison Heart

By Kalynn Bayron,

Book cover of This Poison Heart

Why this book?

This Poison Heart is one of the most beautiful examples of a retelling I’ve ever encountered. Drawing from The Secret Garden, it weaves plant magic, science, and Greek myth into an incredibly, refreshingly, inclusive vision of contemporary society. The freshest, and cleverest, take on an old classic you can possibly imagine, it makes fantasy reality for readers of any age.

(It also includes a nod to another much-loved classic – Little Shop of Horrors! Which is a huge plus for me!)

The Madman's Daughter

By Megan Shepherd,

Book cover of The Madman's Daughter

Why this book?

The Madman’s Daughter is a gorgeous gothic mix of horror, mystery, and romance. Inspired by H.G Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau, it offers a glimpse of a classic often unfamiliar to many YA readers. As a former teacher, I loved finding new ways to introduce the classics to teens, and the fast-paced, secret-filled Madman’s Daughter is an absolute gift in this respect! Not only is it a delicious read in its own right, it shines a fresh and fascinating light on its inspiration, guiding many new readers back to Wells of their own accord and in their own time.

A PHO Love Story

By Loan Le,

Book cover of A PHO Love Story

Why this book?

Romeo & Juliet retellings are, in my opinion, the absolute hardest ones to bring anything new to, but Le’s own voices portrayal of Vietnamese culture smashed all my preconceptions and turned what’s often a dry, predictable format into something so insightful and compelling it genuinely took my breath away. With real, authentic teenage protags facing real, contemporary issues, we get an insight into the turmoil of the lives of ‘ordinary’ teens far removed from the ‘glossy’ veneers we’re often presented in YA fiction. A Pho Love Story speaks a unique, powerful truth – and brings a breath of fresh air not only to the original but also to the genre as a whole. (Caution: parts of this book will make you extremely hungry!)

Of Curses and Kisses

By Sandhya Menon,

Book cover of Of Curses and Kisses

Why this book?

I wanted to include an unashamedly fun read for balance, and Of Curses and Kisses is absolute bucketloads of fun. A contemporary Beauty and the Beast retelling, it’s charmingly clever, funny, and vibrant, with its cast of diverse characters and its boarding school setting. If you’re ever looking for a hug in book form, look no further! 

Pride: A Pride & Prejudice Remix

By Ibi Zoboi,

Book cover of Pride: A Pride & Prejudice Remix

Why this book?

I’m one of those rare English teachers who was never much of a fan of Austen, but Pride is such an incredibly powerful YA read that it had me looking back at the original with fresh eyes when I finished it. A contemporary, diverse retelling of Pride and Prejudice, it tackles issues of race, culture, heritage, and gentrification head-on, all set against the familiar backdrop of first love. Brilliantly showcasing the power and importance of not only the YA genre, but also the original novel which inspired it, I found Pride to be a massively thought-provoking and hugely important twist on the classic. (If I had my way, I’d make it required reading alongside its predecessor!)

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