Remixing The Classics: Young Adult Novels Inspired By Classic Literature

DJ at Cafe de moc eyalnow flickr
Image courtesy of Flickr user eyalnow

From the multiple big and small screen Sherlock Holmes adaptations to the Web sensation The Lizzie Bennet Diaries’ rewriting of Pride & Prejudice for the YouTube era, entertainment media continue to look to well-known literature for inspiration.  In the world of young adult literature, re-imagining familiar stories in contemporary settings or with unique twists has become quite a tradition. Throughout 2012 and 2013, Hub bloggers Jessica Pryde and Jessica Miller traced this very trend in their series “From Classic To Contemporary,” covering a wide range of re-imagined classics in both young adult literature and film.  Additionally, a number of new titles remixing classic novels or plays have appeared on the scene in just the past year.  As the school year gains momentum and students study such classics, it seems only appropriate that we highlight a few of their young adult lit remixes.

conversionConversion – Katherine Howe  St. Joan’s Academy is one of the top high schools in Danvers, MA.  Within its hallowed walls, teenage girls battle for valedictorian, labor over applications to the best colleges in the country, attempt to sort out first relationships, and manage shifting friendships & high parental expectations. Senior Colleen Rowley and her friends knew they had a lot to balance but they were keeping it together–or so they thought.  Then the seemingly flawless Clara Rutherford is overcome by uncontrollable tics in the middle of homeroom and within hours, the strange symptoms have spread to her friends.  Suddenly, St. Joan’s becomes into a media circus as more students become ill and everyone fails to come up with an explanation or a cure.  But only Colleen, who has continued to work on her extra credit project researching The Crucible,  realizes that Danvers used to be called Salem Village and another group of girls was once at the epicenter of a similar episode a few centuries ago.

This modernization of Arthur Miller’s play interweaves the events unfolding at St. Joan’s with a fresh perspective on the witch hunt hysteria in historical Salem.

GreatGreat – Sara Benincasa  Naomi Rye has never enjoyed the summers she spends with her cupcake mogul and socialite mother in East Hampton.  She feels completely out of place among the wealthy teens who have ‘summered’ there for years and spends most of her wishing to be back in Chicago with her dad and her best friend.  But this summer is different–this year, the mysterious & alluring Jacinta is renting the house next door.  With her extravagant parties, flamboyant fashion sense, and gentle sweetness, Jacinta is unlike anyone Naomi has ever met and she can’t help but be fascinated.  But Jacinta has her own reasons for pursuing Naomi’s friendship–chief among them being her intense interest in the beautiful Delilah Fairweather.   Yet the deeper Naomi gets drawn into Jacinta and Delilah’s web of illusions, the harder it will be for her to escape with her soul intact. 

For readers who can’t get enough of  The Great Gatsby (especially after the recent film adaptation), Gordon Korman also re-imagined this American classic in his 2005 novel, Jake, Reinvented.

second starSecond Star – Alyssa B. Sheinmel  Wendy Darling just graduated from high school; she should be partying with her friends on the beach or getting ready for her new life at Stanford in the fall.  But instead Wendy is planning to set out on a search for her younger brothers John and Michael, obsessed surfers who disappeared nine months ago.  Her parents and friends have decided that the recent discovery of the boys’ destroyed boards at the site of a dangerous storm is the last they’ll ever see or hear of them.  Wendy, however, refuses to give up hope and when she stumbles upon a hidden cove and the group of renegade and runaway surfers who live there, she’s sure that she’s on the right track.  Yet the more time she spends in Kensington cove, Wendy can’t help but feel drawn to both the group’s charismatic leader, Pete, and his enemy across the cove, the confusingly kind drug dealer Jas.  But both Pete and Jas know more about John and Michael than they’re telling and Wendy will have to question everything, including her own heart and mind.

J.M. Barrie’s childhood classic seems like a popular source of inspiration for young adult authors; Jodi Lynn Anderson also remixed this story in Tiger Lily (2013 Best Fiction for Young Adults).

madman's daughterThe Madman’s Daughter – Megan Shepard  (2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults) Juliet Moreau has tried her best to forget about her father–the now infamous Dr. Moreau who was accused of unethical medical experiments.   The scandal that followed left Juliet and her mother scrambling to survive.  Now it’s just Juliet, working as a maid at the medical college and trying to move on.  But when she learns that her father is still alive and working on a remote tropical island, she decides she wants some answers.  So accompanied by her father’s handsome assistant Montgomery and a mysterious castaway Edward, Juliet finally reaches her father’s new home. But as soon as she arrives, Juliet can tell that something is terribly wrong. The island’s inhabitants seem oddly deformed and worship the doctor as a god.  Montgomery brought a host of animals over on the ship yet her father says that they don’t eat meat.  As Juliet realizes the truth about her father’s work, she is simultaneously repulsed and intrigued.  However, someone–or something–is killing the island’s residents and Juliet must decide how far she willing to go to save herself–and possibly the larger world–from her father’s horrific genius.

Juliet’s adventures continue beyond the world introduced in H.G. Wells’ original novel in the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-inspired sequel, Her Dark Curiosity, and the Frankenstein-inspired conclusion to the trilogy, The Cold Legacy (to be released in January 2015)

What are your favorite young adult novels that re-imagine classic tales?

Which classics would you like to see remixed next?

-Kelly Dickinson, currently reading The Red Pencil written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated Shane W. Evans

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Kelly Dickinson

I am a librarian at an independent girls' school in the DC-Metro area. I am a compulsive baker, book addict, and genre fiction fan with passion for social justice. Find me on Twitter as @onesmartcupcake.

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