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Take 5: Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Inspired – New Twists on Old Tales in YA Lit

Last week, middle grade and YA author Martha Brockenbrough tweeted that her kid was reading the same books that she herself read in high school. This is also true in my house. Riley, who just graduated in May of 2021, read almost book for the book the same books that I read in high school . . . which was now 31 years ago. And most of those books were already old and outdated at that time. And they certainly didn’t represent the plurality of the world or any of the new innovations in science, justice, or even basic humanity that we have evolved to embrace over the scope of time. And yet there are no shortage of new, innovative takes on classic stories. So today I am going to share with you 5 new takes on some beloved classics that would make for some great comparisons. If you’re going to assign an old tale, why not ask readers to read a new take on those tales and make comparisons. There are so many ways we can invite readers to dig deeper and have a richer exploration of literature.

Bad Girls Never Say Die by Jennifer Mathieu is a take on the classic The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton. Where The Outsiders is the tale of bad boys from the wrong side of tracks in a strong friendship, Bad Girls Never Say Die is the gender bent version of this tale. Here we see bad girls being given the liberty to be, well, bad girls, and there friendship makes the cornerstone of this novel.

Publisher’s Book Description: 1964. Houston, Texas.

Evie Barnes is a bad girl. So are all her friends. They’re the sort who wear bold makeup, laugh too loud, and run around with boys. Most of all, they protect their own against the world. So when Evie is saved from the unimaginable by a good girl from the “right” side of the tracks, every rule she’s always lived by is called into question. Now she must redefine what it means to be a bad girl and rethink everything she knew about loyalty.

In this riveting story of murder, secrets, and tragedy, Jennifer Mathieu re-imagines S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders from a female perspective. Bad Girls Never Say Die has all the drama and heartache of that teen classic, but with a feminist take just right for our times.

I read Lord of the Flies way, way back in the late 90s and Riley read it just a couple of years ago. Although she hated it with a fierce, fiery rage of a 1,000 suns, she LOVES Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. In case you don’t know, Lord of the Flies are about a group of boys who are flying to a thing (I forget what thing) and their plane crashes onto an island and they quickly devolve into horrible, horrible humans. In Beauty Queens by Libba Bray, a group of girls on their way to a beauty pageant crash onto an island and things are not always what they seem. If you are going to read this book – and I highly recommend that you do – try listening to the audio read by Libba Bray herself. It is hilarious and inspiring.

Publisher’s Book Description: Teen beauty queens. A lost island. Mysteries and dangers. No access to email. And the spirit of fierce, feral competition that lives deep in the heart of every girl, a savage brutality that can only be revealed by a journey into the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Oh, the horror, the horror!


When a plane crash strands thirteen teen beauty contestants on a mysterious island, they struggle to survive, to get along with one another, to combat the island’s other diabolical occupants, and to learn their dance numbers in case they are rescued in time for the competition.

In Rebecca, a new wife goes to live a lush life with her new husband and learns that he is hiding a lot of secrets. In I Killed Zoe Spanos, a missing teen in the Hamptons village sets up a series of twists and turns that make for a great read. Inspired in part by Rebecca, Kit Frick writes a psychological suspense novel with its own gothic twists.

Publisher’s Book Description: This gripping thriller follows two teens whose lives become inextricably linked when one confesses to murder and the other becomes determined to uncover the real truth no matter the cost.

What happened to Zoe won’t stay buried…

When Anna Cicconi arrives to the small Hamptons village of Herron Mills for a summer nanny gig, she has high hopes for a fresh start. What she finds instead is a community on edge after the disappearance of Zoe Spanos, a local girl who has been missing since New Year’s Eve. Anna bears an eerie resemblance to Zoe, and her mere presence in town stirs up still-raw feelings about the unsolved case. As Anna delves deeper into the mystery, stepping further and further into Zoe’s life, she becomes increasingly convinced that she and Zoe are connected–and that she knows what happened to her.

Two months later, Zoe’s body is found in a nearby lake, and Anna is charged with manslaughter. But Anna’s confession is riddled with holes, and Martina Green, teen host of the Missing Zoe podcast, isn’t satisfied. Did Anna really kill Zoe? And if not, can Martina’s podcast uncover the truth?

In Orpheus and Eurdyce, Orpheus is a young lover who must travel to the depths of Hades to rescue his true love. In Never Look Back, Eury (catch the name there) is haunted by Hurricane Maria – and an evil spirit. Pheus falls in love with her and wants to help save her from all that haunts her, but does love always conquer all? You’ll want to read this moving retelling of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Publisher’s Book Description:

Eury comes to the Bronx as a girl haunted. Haunted by losing everything in Hurricane Maria–and by an evil spirit, Ato. She fully expects the tragedy that befell her and her family in Puerto Rico to catch up with her in New York. Yet, for a time, she can almost set this fear aside, because there’s this boy . . .

Pheus is a golden-voiced, bachata-singing charmer, ready to spend the summer on the beach with his friends, serenading his on-again, off-again flame. That changes when he meets Eury. All he wants is to put a smile on her face and fight off her demons. But some dangers are too powerful for even the strongest love, and as the world threatens to tear them apart, Eury and Pheus must fight for each other and their lives.

This is an #OwnVoices retelling of the Greek myth Orpheus and Eurydice.

We all know the story of star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet. The Violent Delights takes the tale of star-crossed lovers and sets it in Shanghai in the year 1926. Rival gangs control the streets. Rumors of a madness start to take hold when gang members appear to claw out their own throats and rivals Juliette and Roma must join forces to discover what’s happening before their empires fall apart. This is book 1, there is more story to come.

Publisher’s Book Description: The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery.

A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.

But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.

Perfect for fans of The Last Magician and Descendant of the Crane, this heart-stopping debut is an imaginative Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1920s Shanghai, with rival gangs and a monster in the depths of the Huangpu River.

What are your favorite updated takes on some of the classics? Share with us in the comments. Happy reading!