Reading books will always be my favorite way to spend the day, but it’s especially true during the colder months. Endless hours of darkness to sit by a fire or a nice warm lamp, curled up in a comfy chair or wrapped in a blanket, a warm mug filled with a nice hot beverage in one hand and a book in the other.
People never really grow out of fairytales. I'm no exception: fairytale retellings have always intrigued me. Whether the source is a classic from Hans Christian Andersen, a tale from the Brothers Grimm, or another folktale handed down through the ages, there are so many interesting ways an author can change and re-vamp the story. It could be a new location, an unseen layer to the protagonist’s personality, a different time in history, anything.
A beloved tale transformed for a modern audience is exciting in its newness, but at their core, fairytales also possess some universal themes no matter the setting: a character coming of age, learning to trust their own experience, and encountering new dangers around every corner.
So it's not surprising that YA fiction is such a perfect fit for fairytale adaptations. What makes YA retellings unique is their ability to make the fantastic elements familiar for modern readers -- even if in a historical setting -- while also incorporating some of the satisfyingly dark aspects from Andersen and Grimm. When the right elements come together, a YA retelling is just as spellbinding as that very first picture book.
But what are the elements that make for a great YA fairytale retelling?
Summer is here, and it’s high time for some good Young Adult escapism. When preparing for this, I thought of all the YA books I’ve read and heard of that take place in the summer. Should be easy, right?
I quickly realized that all the ones I knew were stereotypically beachy and “girly.” What about the literary YA? What about adventures and fantasy? Where are the male protagonists in the summer? YA male readership is rather low, for a number of reasons: girls in glamorous dresses plastered across the front of nearly every book facing out in the bookstores, girl protagonists in general, immense amount of paranormal romance, and because most boys gravitate toward nonfiction or immediately jump into adult fiction and fantasy. How could I find some books that are perfect reads for the summer and fit every reader?
It was a struggle, so I called upon some amazing people for help in narrowing down some of their favorite summer reads that could be read by anyone, any age. Summer is about escaping the hassle of work and school. Whether these YA reads are set in the summer, the sweltering South, in a far-off land, or packed with adventure, take a break in the sun with a nice cool glass of lemonade and crack open any of these books!
I want you to think back to when you were sixteen. What did you listen to? What did you read? What hobbies did you have, and what did you and your friends do on the weekends? Did you ever fight with your parents? Did you ever have a break-up that felt like the world was going to fall to pieces that second? Were you ever told “you’ll get over it, it’s no big deal” whenever you were upset about something? Did you ever keep secrets from family or friends, and it ate at you late at night and it made you feel small and all alone?
Whether or not you were a good kid with excellent grades and no drug record, chances are you knew someone who struggled in school, struggled with friends and grades, probably smoked, maybe they experimented, maybe they even took risks. And if you didn’t know someone in real life, you knew a fictional character that experienced all of that, and it opened your eyes to hardships in life.
Young adult books teach, young adult books say “You’re not alone,” young adult books mirror reality. And it’s because of this terrifyingly perfect, realistic depiction of teen tragedy that several adults ban these books.
The YA genre is not only for escapism, but also a place of comfort, a home for those who feel they have nowhere to turn, that no one understands. Many YA authors are successful because their readership responds to realistic depictions of teen issues, such as death, sex, and drugs. This kind of story isn't one-size-fits-all teens, but it can be a powerful presence for the teens that do experience some of life’s more horrific events. Teenagers want to read this. As Kerry Winfrey says in her article “Can YA Books Ever Be ‘Inappropriate'":
I didn’t want to read a sanitized, pre-screened selection of books where no one ever used profanity and the characters always made the right decisions, where no one ever got hurt and people never behaved badly. I wanted to read about real life and the real world.
I’m not a teenager anymore, but I’d be willing to bet that teenagers today still feel the same way. Assuming that kids can’t handle books about intense, upsetting, controversial topics is worse than just silly, it’s insulting. Kids aren’t stupid. They know every story doesn’t have a happy ending—not in real life, anyway.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48% of teen deaths are caused by unintentional injuries, and 73% of those injuries were from vehicle accidents. 11% of deaths are from suicide, and 6% are from cancer. Teen sexual abuse is rather high, as well. According to Teen Help, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused by the age of 18, and 70% of those teens know the abuser. 69% of the abuse occurs in the home, suggesting correctly that abuser is typically a member of the family.
Through fiction, YA literature allows the goody-two-shoeses and star athletes to sympathize with the girl or boy in the back of the classroom, silent and misunderstood, holing up their problems and blaming themselves for sad events that have happened to them. Learning about hardship and suffering is safest through a book--what parent would rather have their child experience suffering first-hand?
With these statistics in mind, let’s take a look at six best-selling YA books that respect the intelligence of the reader, move the reader, and accurately portray teen tragedy.
Let’s start with the obvious: young adult (YA) is booming. It’s an unavoidable fact of book life. You find yourself waiting for weeks for a copy of The Hunger Games from your library, you get lost in the mass of books shoved onto the small shelves in bookstores, and publishers seem to only talk about YA in all its forms. YA is the “it” group, and for very good reason.
If you’re over 18 and reading this post, do not be ashamed to walk into the teen section of a bookstore or library. You’re in the midst of some great stories about self-discovery, overcoming adversity and discrimination, and all those things that every individual experiences at some point in life. The age of the protagonists in YA defines the genre, not the readership. Take a look at the Harry Potter craze! Children, teens, and adults were all reading about the boy wizard.
Speaking of wizards, another enticing and popular genre is fantasy. It’s a genre people love to love, or love to avoid. Surely there’s a story in each reader’s life when they first read fantasy, even if it was just to try it out. Depending on the book, the reader either became hooked or avoided the genre like the plague.
But fantasy can be intimidating; all those alternate worlds, creatures, pages to keep track of. It’s overwhelming!
And that’s where the beauty of YA simplicity waltzes in. YA is notorious for simpler writing with big plots. This is perfect for those extending feelers around the fantasy genre. No one wants page after page of description and back-story on a bush on the side of the path (think Lord of the Rings) for their very first. While those can be nice and interesting, it’s more suited for the established fantasy lover. Instead, YA fantasy is like a giant pool with tiny steps leading you ever so slowly deeper and deeper into the variety of magical possibilities.