When it comes to YA stories that retell or riff on classic works—and if we’re not counting the fairy tales compiled by the Grimms—more often than not, the inspiration comes from Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, Nathaniel Hawthorne, or William Shakespeare. And while it felt for a while that every third book I picked up was a rewrite of Pride & Prejudice, I suspect that if we made a list, there would be far and away more Shakespeare rewrites than all of the others put together—if only because there is so much more source material!
This past Saturday, April 23rd, was the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. Which is as good an excuse as any to take a look at some of the more recent books that pull from his plays for inspiration:
Exit, Pursued by a Bear, by E. K. Johnston
I wrote about this one last month, and I had so much to say about it that I didn’t even GET to the Shakespeare connection! But there is one: it’s loosely based on The Winter’s Tale, and the title of the book is actually a stage direction from the play. Said stage direction is so very famous that there’s even a story trope named after it that refers to the moment a villain gets killed off by an animal rather than by the hero—that way, the audience can have the satisfaction of knowing that the Bad Guy is dead without having to deal with any pesky questions about morality. Just in case you hadn’t noticed: SHAKESPEARE IS EVERYWHERE.
The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You, by Lily Anderson
A retelling of Much Ado About Nothing, due out next month. The banter in this play is such a blast, the storyline is so bananas, that I’m really excited to see how it translates to a modern setting—and I’m especially glad to see that Anderson has entirely changed up Hero’s story arc, which reads grody in Shakespeare Time, and would read even grodier now.
Dreamers Often Lie, by Jacqueline West
A head injury, the grief process, fractured friendships, and a role in A Midsummer Night’s Dream result in Shakespeare-based hallucinations, including appearances from the man himself. This one sounds dark and atmospheric and EMOTIONALLY FRAUGHT, and I am here for it.
Summerlost, by Ally Condie
This is geared a bit younger than the others on the list—more middle grade than YA—and it’s not a retelling of a play, but is largely set at a summer-long Shakespeare festival. One of my favorite things about Gayle Forman’s Just One Day was the clear love and joy with which she wrote about Shakespeare, how she showed that Shakespeare isn’t all starchy ruffled collars and teeth-gnashing misery, that Shakespeare is LIFE-AFFIRMING and MIND-BLOWING and FUN. While the Kirkus review makes it clear that Summerlost is a sad story about sadness, I’m hoping to maybe get a mini-dose of that joy here.
The Steep and Thorny Way, by Cat Winters
I’ve had my eye on this Hamlet retelling since January!
Heart or Mind, by Patrick Jones
This is a rewrite of Romeo and Juliet set in North Minneapolis, and part of the Unbarred (GET IT?) series. Personally, I could do without yet another R&J retelling, and the Kirkus reviewer had concerns about the stereotyping of the Muslim characters, so I’ll likely give this one a miss. I’m planning to take a look at the others in the series, though—I’m especially curious about Duty or Desire, because I don’t think I’ve seen any other YAs based on Antony and Cleopatra.
The Queen of Innis Lear & Lady Hotspur, by Tessa Gratton
These books were just announced this weekend, aren’t due out until 2018, and are actually geared to the adult market—but based on Gratton’s YA books, I’m guessing that there’s going to be serious crossover potential. King Lear! Gender-swap Henry IV Part I! MY NERD HEART IS SWOONING ALL THE SWOONS!
In addition to running a library in rural Maine, Leila Roy blogs at Bookshelves of Doom, is currently serving on the Amelia Bloomer Project committee, is a contributor at Book Riot, hangs out on Twitter a lot—possibly too much—and watches a shocking amount of television. Her cat is a murderer.