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Retellings of Classics You Need to Check Out

Tired of re-reading your favorite classic books? Try your hand at these modern and fantasy takes on classical literature.

I remember in school hating classics so much. As I grew up, I found love for a few of them. But what I think makes classic literature everyone even better are the retellings that set the story in modern-day or fantasy settings. It adds a bit more relatability to the characters when you see them dealing with the same issues we do daily. Or it makes the story more whimsical because there’s magic involved.

It’s really interesting to compare the originals and retellings side by side. Plus, it’s a good excuse to finally get around to reading some great books that you skipped in school!

‘Rebecca’: ‘Fragile’ by Sarah Hilary

Rebecca, Fragile book covers
Pan Macmillan | HarperCollins

If you fell in love with Daphne du Maurier’s novel, Rebecca, you’re going to adore this psychological thriller from Sarah Hilary. Fragile is described as adding a Gothic twist to a modern retelling of a book that most people overlook on their shelves.

Nell ran away from the foster system and found a “home” at Starling Villas. She’s given a job and a roof over her head. But is it really safe for her there? Her boss has a lot of rules and secrets that put her at risk. Will she be able to make it out relatively unscathed or perish at the estate?

‘Anna Karenina’: ‘Anna K: A Love Story’ by Jenny Lee

Anna Karenina, Anna K book covers
Flatiron Books | Penguin Books

Before I even say anything else, let me be clear: I hated Anna Karenina as much as I could. I will never love it. That said, I loved this retelling for some reason. Anna K: A Love Story has been described as “Anna Karenina meets Gossip Girl,” and I couldn’t think of a better way to put it. Even better, a sequel (Anna K: Away) that lives up to the first book is also out now.

Anna is at the top of her game, and everything is going perfectly in life. Her family and friends, not so much. Even though she’s managed to escape any scandals and problems, all that changes when she meets Alexia Vronsky. Though they are complete opposites, they are drawn together even while Anna is still in a relationship. Is Anna willing to risk everything she knows for her first love?

‘The Phantom of the Opera’: ‘Of Dreams and Rust’ by Sarah Fine

The Phantom of the Opera, Of Dreams and Rust book covers
Margaret K. McElderry Books | Harper Perennial

Of Dreams and Rust is the second book in a duology, but it’s more in line with The Phantom of the Opera. The first book is Of Metal and Wishes, and a prequel was released following the Ghost titled Of Shadows and Obsession. Honestly, if you love the original, you’re going to finish this series before you realize it.

This description might contain spoilers, but you’re going to want to read the first book either way. After the collapse of a slaughterhouse where Wen worked, she’s taken up a friendship with Bo, the Ghost. A war is brewing in the background, and Wen has to warn people of it. She leaves Bo behind, but how much will it cost to save everyone?

‘The Scarlet Letter’: ‘When She Woke’ by Hillary Jordan

The Scarlet Letter, When She Woke book covers
Algonquin Books | Modern Library

I never really fell in love with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter as much as I did his short stories. Still, this futuristic retelling has me wanting to give it another try. My only gripe about When She Woke is that I wanted more after it ended.

In an alternate future, instead of sending convicts to prison, their skin is colored to match their crime. Hannah’s skin is red – the color of murder – and she has to navigate life with the world knowing what she did. Could you handle this world one day?

‘The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood’: ‘Hood’ by Jenny Moke

Robin Hood, Hood book covers
Disney-Hyperion | 1st World Library – Literary Society

This might just be one of my favorite Robin Hood-inspired stories I’ve ever come across. And that’s saying something because I love the tale of Robin Hood and his Merry Men with all my heart. In a universe where Maid Marien and Robin Hood were married, Isabella is the daughter of the two who might be more like her father than meets the eye.

When Marien is arrested, and Isabella is targeted by the kingdom, she is sent on a mission to find her father (who she doesn’t even know). By finding him, she is thrust into his world – a world full of thieves, outlaws, and Robin’s enemies. She has to fight for her voice to be heard among the Merry Men and save her mother.

‘Moby Dick’: ‘The Art of Fielding’ by Chad Harbach

Moby Dick, The Art of Fielding book covers
Little, Brown and Company | Penguin Classics

I didn’t think a baseball novel could resemble Moby Dick in any way, but I was wrong. The author of The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach, is a huge fan of Herman Melville and his works, and you can really tell the thought and effort he put into the novel. Even better, if you love baseball, you’re in for a treat because it takes place all within one baseball season.

After a baseball game goes wrong, five college students’ lives are in the air. Henry’s future is not sure anymore, and Guert’s is letting his feelings get the best of him. Owen is in a dangerous situation. Mike’s future is coming sooner than he’d hoped, and Pella is about to be reunited with her father for a better life.

‘The Canterbury Tales’: ‘Feral Youth’ by David Hutchison

The Canterbury Tales, Feral Youth book covers
Simon Pulse | Xist Classics

When I first picked up Feral Youth, I had no idea it was a modern and diverse retelling of The Canterbury Tales. And like Chaucer’s book of stories, there are numerous stories from dark and twisted to mythological and mischievous.

Teens in Zeppelin Bend are working to overcome their troubles to be better people in society. Ten are stuck together in the wild, and all have diverse backgrounds. Some of the stories the teens tell may seem like lies, but they swear it’s the truth.

‘The Great Gatsby’: ‘Great’ by Sara Benincasa

The Great Gatsby, Great book covers
HarperTeen | Scribner

What would The Great Gatsby look like if some of the characters were gender-swapped? And what would the story be like in modern-day Hamptons? Sara Benincasa took those two questions and ran with them to create a pretty believable story.

Naomi has always been an outsider in her mother’s socialite life. This summer, she meets Jacinta and develops a slight obsession with her. However, Jacinta is hiding some secrets that could destroy people’s lives. How far is Naomi willing to go for her crush?

‘Les Misérables’: ‘Sky Without Stars’ by Jessica Brody and Joanne Rendell

Les Miserables, Sky Without Stars book covers
Simon Pulse | Penguin

The first in the System Divine trilogy, Sky Without Stars, thrusts us straight into the science-fiction retelling of Les Misérables. All three books follow the story as it unfolds, so if the original work is too short for you, you’ve just found the perfect series. There’s also a prequel following one of the characters, Chatine.

Three strangers’ lives are entwined when a revolution relies on them to succeed. The people of Laterre are either the rich living in beautiful estates or the poor living and starving in the alleyways. Chatine is a street thief, Marcellus is an officer for the Laterre government, and Alouette is a refuge who just wants to protect the only library on the planet.

See related: Asian Mythology Retellings You Need to Read Now

‘Persuasion’: ‘By the Book’ by Julia Sonneborn

Persuasion, By the Book book covers
Gallery Books | Penguin Books

By the Book has the same writing style and tone as Jane Austen’s Persuasion. The main difference between the two books is the time period they’re set in. Julia Sonneborn’s retelling modernizes the story perfectly that made me love the original story.

Anne Corey is an English professor whose life is going perfectly – until her ex-fiance shows up as the new college president. Now, Anne is just trying to focus on work and her blossoming relationship with another writer. But Adam is always there, possibly offering a second chance at their relationship.

‘Sense and Sensibility’: ‘Jane of Austin’ by Hillary Manton Lodge

Sense and Sensibility, Jane of Austin book covers
Waterbrook Press | Dover Publications

Jane of Austin author Hillary Manton Lodge took all of Sense and Sensibility and modernized it. And the first thing she did was make the title a play on the iconic writer’s name. After being kicked out of their tea shop in California, Jane and Celia make their way to Austin with their younger sister Margot.

Once there, they have to navigate their new home while also dealing with romances. Jane falls for a musician, pushing her and Celia farther apart than their family problems. And we can’t forget to mention Marine Captain Callum Beckett, who is mourning his father and left leg.

‘Emma’: ‘Dear Mr. Knightley’ by Katherine Reay

Emma, Dear Mr. Knightley book covers
Thomas Nelson | Arcturus Publishing

Emma has gained a bit more popularity after the movie starring Anya Taylor-Joy came out a couple years ago. But Dear Mr. Knightley came out before everyone jumped on the bandwagon. And honestly, I enjoyed it a bit more than Jane Austen’s novel. Told in a series of letters between Sam and Mr. Knightley, we see Sam’s progress in finding herself.

Mr. Knightley offers Sam a scholarship for a graduate degree to a prestigious journalism school – but she must write him constantly updating him of her progress. As the letters continue, she grows and becomes a wise young woman who knows who she is inside. But is she willing to show that side of her to those around her?

‘Pride and Prejudice’: ‘Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors’ by Sonali Dev

Pride and Prejudice; Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors book covers
William Morrow Paperbacks | Barnes & Noble

I had a hard time getting through Pride and Prejudice for years before reading it for a college English class. But I managed to breeze through the modern retelling from Sonali Dev. And I loved it, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series following the main character’s siblings and are retellings of other Jane Austen novels (Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma).

Trisha Raje is a successful and sought-after neurosurgeon in San Francisco. And it seems like she’d be applauded by her family. The truth is they don’t think that’s enough, and she’s already broken the only three rules her family has. She’s trying to redeem herself when she meets the new family chef, DJ Caine, and they clash immediately.

‘Jane Eyre’: ‘Within These Wicked Walls’ by Lauren Blackwood

Jane Eyre, Within These Wicked Walls book covers
Wednesday Books | Vintage

I’ve read a lot of debut novels in my time, but none have had me staying up until three in the morning to finish a book in two days. Within These Wicked Walls takes Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and places it in an Ethiopian-inspired fantasy setting where Andromeda is tasked with ridding houses and people of the Evil Eye and its manifestations.

Magnus Rochester hires Andromeda off the streets to rid his house, which is full of curses and manifestations out for blood. Even though she’s not fully equipped, she takes the job to save him. It’s going to take all the help she can get – which isn’t a lot – but will she be able to save the man she’s come to care for and everyone else who lives in the house?

‘Little Women’: ‘Meg & Jo’ by Virginia Kantra

Little Women, Meg & Jo book covers
Berkley | Puffin Classics

Even though Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women has always been popular, I think my love for it grew stronger after Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of it. And after seeing that once, I got straight to reading stories of modern-day March sisters. And Meg & Jo is my favorite so far. A sequel was also recently released, so I’m excited to read that one, too.

The March sisters are pursuing their dreams away from each other. Jo is in New York City, trying to be the next best journalist when she loses her career and struggles to get going as a freelancer. On the other hand, Meg has the life everyone thought she dreamed of. But it’s not enough for her. When their mother gets sick, the sisters reunite and discover what they need to fix their lives.