Villains have always had a bad reputation. They’re the evil laughs, the sinister smiles, and the mischief makers who stalk your nightmares and make you think twice about sleeping with the lights off. But recently, these supposedly “evil” characters have been the focus of several fairy tale retellings, twisting a classic story on its head and humanizing some of the most notorious villains in literature. You know, the characters who made you cover your eyes…while secretly sneaking a peek to stay a little while longer in their unabashed madness. So, are you in the mood for a twist on the usual fairy tale retellings? Read on for my favorite YA fairy tale retellings.
The Beauty and the Beast ranks high among all other YA fairy tale retellings, nay, all other stories. It has a treasured place in our hearts, and has most recently been adapted into a big-screen, live-action film starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens. Belle anchors the story in emotion and compassion (and books!), but the Beast is just as beguiling. Who was this man? What was his life like before Belle? Enter Beastly by Alex Finn. In this fairy tale villain retelling, the Beast stalks New York City, aware that he is a hideous “monster” while pining for life when he was Kyle Kingsbury, one of the most popular guys in school: rich, handsome, and with a gorgeous girlfriend. When his prank on a weird girl goes wrong, Kyle is transformed into a beast with two years to find someone who will love him and help break the curse. That person comes in the form of Lindy, a genuine and sincere girl of humble means. Their love hits you in the feels, but it’s Kyle’s emotional journey that makes this an excellent fairy tale retelling. Finn’s novel is the first in the Kendra Chronicles, and if you loved this version of Beauty and the Beast, check out the film adaptation of Finn’s novel.
Blackbeard is a name that strikes fear into the hearts of many. This fierce pirate king treated everyone badly, and who he didn’t treat badly, he killed. But maybe that’s not the whole story, and Nicole Castroman’s adventure-filled, sweeping novel, Blackhearts takes us into the Blackbeard origins. Edward “Teach” Drummond is the son of one of Britain’s richest merchants. It seems that everyone get a say in Teach’s life, dictating his profession, his home, his future wife, everyone except Teach. The massive, mysterious open sea calls his name, but Teach struggles to break the ties to his powerful family, especially his father. Enter Anne, an orphan and new hire as a maid in the Drummond household. Teach and Anne find an instant spark of attraction, each drawn to the great, wide world out there, and each other as partners. In Blackhearts, the first in a seres, Anne and Teach search for a place to cast their dreams. With love as their compass, they set out on a YA fairy tale retelling that turns into legend.
Marissa Meyer is a name known to many thanks to the Lunar Chronicles series. Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White… each had their own retelling in the science fiction fantasy mashup series. But after the Lunar Chronicles were a wrap, Meyer wanted to do something different. Heartless is set in the Alice in Wonderland universe, but instead of yet-another story from Alice’s POV, this riveting novel gives us the murderous Queen of Hearts like we’ve never seen her: as Catherine, a shy baker with a crush on the court jester while everyone else has royal ambitions for her. Meyer’s standalone novel is epic, romantic, and puts a human face behind the playing card villain we all know. As YA fairy tale retellings go, Heartless is not to be missed!
Who could ever forget Captain Hook in Peter Pan? The tightly-wound man driven mad by the tick of a clock, Captain Hook has never been anything less than a crooked-handed joke… until Briana Shrum’s captivating novel, Never, Never. Sure, Peter Pan was always a bit of a wild card, the original man child with an elvish smile and a reckless disregard for violence or wrecking the childhoods of other people. So when Pan, the boy who wouldn’t grow up, meets James Hook, the boy who only wants to grow up, their friendship could never be totally stable even though they were undeniably drawn to each other. When Pan leaves Hook in Neverland, a place where no one grows up and everyone worships Pan, Hook is stranded in his version of hell. We’ve only seen this epic rivalry through one point of view, until now. Shrum’s Hook is vulnerable, uncertain, paranoid… and a whole lot more complex than the Disney cartoon.
Although technically it’s not a young adult novel, Wicked is well-known to any teen theater nerd as the basis for the breathtaking Broadway musical adaptation. It’s difficult to understate how much of an impact Gregory Maguire’s “revisionist” (fancy name for reinterpretation) take on L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has had on fairy tale retellings. Anyone who has seen the film version of The Wizard of Oz remembers the evil Wicked Witch of the West. The green skin, the black hat, the flying monkeys, and that sinister cackle! Maguire’s emotionally complex, flawed, yet vulnerable—and most important, misunderstood—heroine, Elphaba found many fans on stage and on the page and sparked a series of follow-up novels from other characters’ perspectives, like the Cowardly Lion. Gregory Maguire’s Wicked fundamentally changed the way we look at fairy tales, fables, and other classic stories by twisting the perspective of the character we are supposed to unquestionably hate. This list would not be complete without including Wicked. It’s really where modern YA fairy tale retellings start.