This list has been curated by our Books Editor based on books she’s read or sampled, and books that have great Goodreads reviews.
You could write an entire thesis on why people are attracted to familiar tales (some people have!). As humans, we seem to be drawn to the same storylines regardless of how many times we’ve heard them.
In the book world, retellings — aka classic plot lines given a new spin — are having a huge moment. From Othello to Beauty and the Beast, odds are you can find a revamped version of an old favorite at your local bookstore.
To help you find your next favorite retelling, we’ve rounded up the most exciting new and newish releases below.
We loved this fresh, funny, honest, #OwnVoices YA retelling of Romeo and Juliet set on the stage (and backstage) of musical theater. Jerzie Jhames has tried her hardest to land the lead role in Broadway’s hottest new show, a Romeo and Juliet-inspired hip-hopera with a diverse cast and contemporary twists on the Shakespeare play. But after multiple try-outs she lands the role of understudy… to mega-star Cinny. And they’re both falling for the male lead.
One reviewer writes “How refreshing it was to […] see a Black woman reaching for the stars and landing on top. This was absolutely everything and I’ll have my review up soon, so many wonderful references to theater, music, and literature within these pages. I’m obsessed.”
If you like your fairy tales a bit darker, then we recommend checking out this adult fantasy that’s a post-apocalyptic take on the perennial classic Little Red Riding Hood. Red isn’t as defenseless as she may seem and though she doesn’t want to think of herself as a killer, she isn’t going to let herself get taken advantage of just because she’s a woman alone in the woods.
In Red’s world, the Crisis decimated the population and sent survivors into quarantine camps that spread disease and destruction. When Red’s taken to the woods, she takes survival into her own hands. This bloody, harsh, dystopian novel isn’t for everyone, but Christina Henry’s writing certainly keeps the pages turning.
Folklore is a great source of inspiration for many retellings, and in this dark, one-of-a-kind fairy tale inspired by Mexican folklore, readers are transported to a 1920s Mexico full of gods, demons, magic, and of course, jazz. It is, the Jazz Age, after all.
Casiopeia (named after the constellation) is the center of this moving and feminist coming-of-age story, and wishes nothing more than to leave her miserable small-town life. She gets her wish when she accidentally awakens a Mayan death god. They set off on a journey together through landscapes that completely mesmerize us — jungles of the Yucatan, the vibrant Mexico City, and even into the dark Mayan underworld.
If you’re up for something fresh to draw you out of a #ReadingSlump then pick up this book. You won’t want to put it down. We love that this tale, typically based on Western culture and settings, gets new life as a thrilling urban YA fantasy with diverse characters and told by a Gen Z Chinese New Zealander.
This book is a reimagining of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet but in this story, readers are transported to 1926 Shanghai. The two feuding families are vying for control, but there’s some seriously supernatural sh*t going on. A monster-born violent illness is claiming lives on both sides, and 18-year-old former flapper Juliette Cai (heir of the Scarlet gang) and Roma Montagov (heir of the Russian White Flowers) are caught in the middle.
Is Beauty and the Beast one of your all-time faves when it comes to classic tales you grew up with? Same. But have you ever pondered, what might have happened after the happily ever after? This new series reimagines Disney princesses as rulers in their own right, after the story we know ends.
Rebel Rose reimagines Belle after she’s broken the curse. The year is 1789 and France is on the verge of a revolution. Belle and Lio (who was Beast) travel to Paris to do what they can. Belle stumbles upon a magic mirror that holds an ominous warning and must find the strength to become the queen that will save all she loves.
This one’s not a direct retelling of a specific story per se, but it is a retelling of an entire character trope found in old classic fairy tales — the serving wench. Instead of being the usual minor side character, this YA fantasy story follows Tanya, a serving wench at her tavern the Smiling Snake.
She knows how to break up a fight, and could run the place on her own, which is exactly what she plans to do when her guardian dies. But first, she has to journey to petition the queen to keep the tavern in her name, and she must face a band of thieves and grouchy guards among other things.
We loved the fast pace, snarky humor, fierce feminist characters, magical feathers, and body-positive details in this retelling that explores the meaning of home and self-respect.
Content warning: Some magic in the book involves self-harm.
Popular BookTuber Francina Simone recently released an #OwnVoices contemporary YA retelling of Shakespeare’s Othello and we love the humor and heart of main character Liv. If you wonder whether this is like Othello in the way that multiple people are murdered — no, but it’s bold in its own way. Liv has been letting her insecurities rule her life, but she decides “f*ck it,” she’s had enough of fading into the crowd.
She tries out for her high school musical, and has to make the decision to start saying yes to things that take her out of her comfort zone, but reaches the point when she ends up being interested in three different guys — two of which are her best friends.
This YA fast-paced fantasy retelling of the “Seven Samurai” blends everything we love — high stakes, high school drama, beautiful kistune, and countless monsters based on Japanese mythology. In this tale, we follow Kira who’s 17 years old and bullied by the “popular” girls at school while she’s mostly ignored at home. She lives with the secret that she can see yokai — the ghosts and demons that haunt the streets of Japan.
She ends up getting in a situation when the fate of Japan hangs in the balance. So, naturally she enlists the help of seven powerful death gods. Yes, this is as awesome as it sounds.
This is a super cute contemporary YA retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma. If you love stories, especially about love that take place in high school, then this one might be for you. It follows Emma Woodhouse who’s a genius when it comes to numbers, but not so much with people. She and her coding club friend creating a matchmaking app.
But it’s not a regular dating app — it’s for their school only, and it works… at least at first. When couples start breaking up, Emma takes it personally, thinking there was a glitch in her code, but she discovers that algorithms can’t always predict love. We want to see this made into a Netflix film!
We’re immediately drawn in by this novel that reimagines the 10-year Trojan war from the much-needed perspective of the silenced women of that era. It is a “woman’s epic” that shines a light on the women, girls, and goddesses at the center of the Western world’s greatest tale. If you love books by Madeline Miller this one’s for you.
Rather than zooming in on one particular character, this story is told through the lens of many snapshots from many female characters. We get to hear from the imagined perspectives of women such as Creusa, Calliope, Theano, Penelope, Eris, Polyxena, and many more. A fierce kaleidoscope of perspectives that illuminates the Trojan war in a new way.
In this modern spin on Jane Austen’s classic Sense and Sensibility, the leading women are Daisy and her younger sister Wallis. Daisy, our main leading lady, is not a fan of surprises. So, when it’s discovered that their esteemed father was involved in a public scandal before he passed away, Daisy’s life quickly becomes complicated.
Daisy’s family faces public shaming, dwindling savings, and physical threats. Daisy doesn’t know who to trust. Her best friend (and love interest) Atlas is even writing an exposé on her father. In this retelling, we see a powerful representation of sisters with an incredible bond despite their differences.
We love a good gender-bent retelling and this one, a YA retelling of The Phantom of the Opera, is already getting stellar rave reviews. The writing is lyrical and atmospheric, and the story incredibly enchanting.
Isda spends her days behind the lavish walls of an opera house, invisible, hiding behind the mask that covers her face. She’s one of the few who have a magic that enables her to see and manipulate the memories of others when they sing — it is something others would like to kill her for, and the way she explores the city, living vicariously. Until she meets Emeric.
The Great Gatsby: The Graphic Novel written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, adapted by Fred Fordham, illustrated by Aya Morton
This one’s not so much a retelling as it is a re-showing perhaps? Most of us know this story, and it’s the same story, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, but adapted by Fred Fordham and illustrated by Aya Morton. This version has been adapted into a graphic novel — a new format for an American classic from the 1920s, with an introduction by Scott Fitzgerald’s great-granddaughter Blake Hazard.
Out June 30, 2021.
Speaking of The Great Gatsby, this pretty much the best thing since bobbed haircuts and flapper dresses. This captivating debut novel is a magical retelling of The Great Gatsby told from the perspective of a queer, Vietnamese-American.
In this version Jordan Baker is the main character and she must find her way in an alternate Jazz-Age New York, in which the rich are doing deals with demons. Gatsby’s parties are dripping with money and dark magic and mystery. This coming-of-age story is sexy, decadent, and one you’re going to want to get utterly lost in.
Out June 1, 2021.
Naomi Farr is the books editor and a copy editor at Greatist. She loves all things books, beauty, wellness, and mental health. She’s also a YA fantasy writer and bookstagrammer. You can find her (and her cat) @avioletlife.