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Who’s the Fairest of Them All: 6 Fabulous YA Fairytale Retellings

One of my firmly held beliefs is that fairytales are for everyone. Not just kids, but adults as well—if the point of fairytales is to convey a moral, or teach us a lesson, it seems presumptuous to believe that, as adults, we don’t need a little bit of a reminder now and then (I know I do!). That aside, fairytales are also just wonderful time capsules that tell us so much about the time and place in which they were written. And while one of the best things about fairytales is that the message at the center is so universal, some of the trappings of an old fairytale can start to feel, well...old. This is where retellings come in.

A great retelling is so much fun because I love to see how writers reinterpret the same moral or message for an entirely different generation of readers. Everything is different, except nothing is different. That’s the enduring appeal of fairytales: Details can be changed, time and place shifted, but it’s the heart of the story that really matters.

Here are six of my all-time favorites.

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Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley

If you love the original but want just a little variation in your life, then Spindle’s End is perfect for you! A classic retelling of Sleeping Beauty, McKinley’s luminous novel stars a headstrong girl named Rosie who has the gift of beast-speech, unknowingly passed on to her by the same fairy who rescued her from a curse when she was young. You’ll fall head over heels for the stubborn Rosie, and for McKinley’s gorgeous writing.

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Lost in the Never Woods by Aiden Thomas

I love when writers take fairy tales and switch the genre around—Cinderella in space! A Beauty and the Beast western! Well. Maybe not that one. But I do love Aiden Thomas’ upcoming thriller retelling of Peter Pan, set in a small coastal town in Oregon. Full to brim with creepiness and mystery, this book will give you chills... and make you burn the midnight oil to finish!

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Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao

Sometimes the bad guys are just more interesting. At least, they are in Dao’s East Asian retelling of the early life of the evil queen, who is most famous for giving Snow White a poisoned apple. But there’s definitely more to her than that. An evocative setting, swoonworthy romance, and just the right amount of gruesomeness make Forest of a Thousand Lanterns required reading for fairy tale buffs.

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The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

Shannon Hale is practically the queen of YA fairy tale retellings. But her first book, The Goose Girl, is still my favorite. Based on a Brother’s Grimm fairy tale of the same name, Hale spins a compulsively readable story about Ani, a young princess who is forced to live in hiding as a goose girl after a plot to kill her is uncovered. Oh, and she can talk to the wind. What’s not to love?

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East by Edith Pattou

Based on the Norwegian fairytale East of the Sun and West of the Moon, Pattou’s riveting retelling is about Rose, a girl who has never felt like she belonged in the family she was born in, and the mysterious white bear who takes her away to a castle where, every night, he becomes human. Bonus: There’s a long-awaited sequel coming out this fall!

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Ash by Malinda Lo

One of my very favorite things about retellings is that, while they can breathe new life into old stories, they can also leave behind the parts of the old story that are problematic or no longer applicable to modern life, and can serve as mirrors for voices that are often not heard in old school fairy tales. Ash the perfect example of this. In this queer retelling of Cinderella, Ash, who is bereft after the death of her father and left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother, befriends Kaisa, the king’s huntress, who reminder her what it is like to love. Romantic and compelling, Ash is a must read for any fan of retellings.

If you think writing a fairytale retelling sounds right up your alley, check out Holly’s post on how to do it well!

How about you, Swooners? Share your favorite YA fairytale retellings in the comments!

Author spotlight

Rachel D.

Growing up in rural Oregon, books were my way out. Now, books are my way of reconnecting with my home. ...

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