Susan M. Wyler
Calling on the spirit of Emily Brontë as well as on that of her famous classic Wuthering Heights, Susan Wyler’s Solsbury Hill tells the story of Eleanor Abbott. This young New Yorker is called to her ancestral home in the Yorkshire moors by her dying aunt, who’s planning on leaving her grand estate to her niece. On the moors, Eleanor meets Meadowscarp (meadow = heath; scarp = cliff) Macleod, but she’s more worried about her back-home boyfriend to really wonder about the ghosts of yore rising in front of her. Not to mention the actual ghost who begins to help her on her way as she begins falling for Heathcl—I mean, Meadowscarp.
Libba Bray’s usual landscape is the lush Victorian magical England of her Gemma Doyle trilogy. But in this book, Bray explores a wholly new territory: modern life, a road trip, a maybe-real-maybe-hallucination punk-rock fairy hovering around, and a possible cure for mad cow disease. Cam, the unfortunate soul who has the disease, is the one suffering the hallucinations/fairy-vision, and all he wanted was to get through high school without dying. Though his hallucinations and chivalry are brought on by disease rather than reading too much, Cam is nevertheless a Don Quixote for the YA genre, and Going Bovine is just as much of a romp as the Spanish masterpiece.
Bridget Jones's Diary
With a love interest named Mr. Darcy, it’s pretty obvious that Fielding’s book is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. At first, Bridget Jones’s Mr. Darcy is just as stuffy and mean-seeming as Fitzwilliam is in the original, and both books are social satires with particular observations of English society (they just happen to be a few centuries apart). Bridget Jones is no Lizzie Bennet, but she’s her own entertaining and belovedly flawed person, and the diary format of the book is reminiscent of Austen’s epistles. While Bridget is definitely obsessed with her weight, she’s otherwise full of witticisms in her journal entries. And, of course, we all know who she’ll end up with, don’t we?
A Monster's Notes
In this reimagining of Frankenstein’s monster’s life, Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein) encounters the monster as a little girl and becomes obsessed with his story. But here, it’s the monster’s voice coming to us through the pages, detailing how he came to be, how he met Shelley, how she wrote to him, and how he is continuing to live on through the decades. In a sense, this is a story of Mary Shelley’s life as well as a love story between her and a being she put in her fiction. But it’s also the story of a person who’s been deemed a monster for not being human, despite living in the times of robotics and AI development, and of his trying to understand his place in a world that pushes him away.
The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials
The Golden Compass (also known as Northern Lights), The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass tell an epic story of parallel universes, explore magnificently complex characters, and theorize on the mysterious dark matter that makes up more than a quarter of the observable universe. The books are essentially what happened when Pullman decided to upend Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost by creating a petty rather than benevolent god, and celebrating—rather than berating—the loss of its characters innocence.
J. M. Coetzee
In this masterful exploration of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe by South African author J. M. Coetzee, we get to watch the deconstruction of the original novel. Daniel Defoe is approached by a recently rescued woman, Susan Barton, who finds herself shipwrecked on the same island inhabited by the famous characters Crusoe and Friday. Tongueless and speechless, Friday is alive and well, rescued from the island too, but it’s Susan Barton who tells Defoe’s Crusoe story, as he dies along the way from the island and can’t tell it himself. How much is she inventing, how much is Defoe’s narrative, and how much, ultimately, is Crusoe’s own story?
Romeo and/or Juliet
This is a fun retelling of Romeo and Juliet, except that in this version you get to do a lot of the, er, telling yourself. In other words, this is a legit choose-your-own-adventure adaptation of a Shakespeare play. I kid you not. A follow-up to To Be or Not To Be, Ryan North introduces the star-crossed lovers as two people who might not have to be star-crossed at all. With over 100 different endings, it’s far more likely that you’ll end up reading some sort of rock opera (complete with robots) than an Elizabethan play.
While we love the classics here at Read It Forward, we’ve also discussed the classics we haven’t read and the ones we feel uncomfortable with because of their portrayals of certain characters or situations. We’ve also rounded up of some of the best twists on old tales. But the classics—from the epic Latin poem The Aeneid to the snarky and beauty-obsessed The Picture of Dorian Gray—continue to be reworked and reimagined. And just as the canon of what we consider to be classics is vast, so too are the amazing retellings of their stories by contemporary writers.
Here, we recommend seven more fantastic books that use classic conceits and plotlines to tell their own unique stories.
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