“And You May Contribute a Verse”: Adapted, Diversified Classics for Teens, Part Two

By Rebecca Moore, c.2020

Welcome to part two of this annotated bibliography of adapted and diversified—sometimes called “bent”—classics for teens. In this context, “classics” are works which have an established presence in the western canon, and are written by named authors. They have been bent by gender, ethnicity, sexuality, and more. Although authors’ motivations are complex and individual, they often include exploring the universality of themes in the original texts, and embodying a Walt Whitman Leaves of Grass (1891) quote: “That you are here—that life exists, and identity/That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”

Part one covered adaptations of works by Shakespeare. Part two covers adaptations of works by other authors.

Benincasa, Sara. Great. HarperTeen, 2014. 270 p. $17.99. 978-0-06222-269-5.
This modern-day adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925) follows Naomi, daughter of a Food Network star, to a summer in East Hampton. Their neighbor, Jacinta Trimalchio, is an enigmatic fashionista and over-the-top party giver. Why is she obsessed with meeting Delilah Fairweather, a casual friend of Naomi’s? Benincasa felt the themes of Gatsby “were incredibly relevant to teenagers” (Benincasa). In gender-swapping the Gatsby character and keeping the Daisy character female, Benincasa, who is bisexual (Flans), “wanted to play with elements of teen sexuality and to talk about the difference between obsession and love, and I wanted to see where those lines are blurred, particularly for teenage girls” (Benincasa).

Cameron, Sharon. Rook. Scholastic Press, 2016. 464 p. $9.99 pb. 978-1-33803-246-8.
In this gender-flipped reboot of Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel (1905), a far-future dystopic Earth has reverted to a pre-industrial, technology-banning level of society. Disguised as The Red Rook, Sophia Bellamy rescues prisoners from the Sunken City (formerly Paris). Can she accept the help of—and arranged marriage with—Rene Hasard, a Parisian who is more than he seems? The author states: “[I]t’s all about corsets, swords, decapitations and a female spy, and is a huge homage to The Scarlet Pimpernel” (Cameron, Author Interview). As to why the gender flip, Cameron is an admirer of author J.R.R. Tolkien, and appreciates and emulates his theme of: “Anyone, no matter how seemingly insignificant, can make their world worse, or they can make it better. Inner strength wins” (Cameron, Blog Tour). Or, as the book trailer asks: “Who needs a wedding ring when you can pick up a sword?” (Rook).

Hand, Cynthia. The Afterlife of Holly Chase. HarperTeen, 2018. 416 p. $9.99 pb. 978-0-06231-851-0.
Holly Chase, a wealthy Hollywood teen, was such a Scrooge that she got a visit from The Christmas Carol’s (Charles Dickens, 1843) three ghosts—and laughed it off. When she then died, she got recruited as the new Ghost of Christmas Past in Project Scrooge, which chooses one person a year to help. Five years later, the Scrooge is seventeen-year-old Ethan Winters. Author Cynthia Hand loved the original, and wanted to modernize the story to make it about younger, more diverse characters” (Hand). As to making Holly female, she felt that, unlike crotchety old men whom we believe can change for the good, “society is not accepting of teenage girls who aren’t, well, nice.” Thus she really wanted “to showcase Holly as a flawed, growing character—to try to push back against those gender biased expectations” (Hand).

Khan, Hena. More To the Story. Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019. 272 p. $17.99. 978-1-48149-209-6.
This adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1868) sets the story in modern Atlanta, with a Pakistani-American family. Seventh grader Jameela reports for the school paper, and yearns to cover stories that really matter, like microaggressions. Then her sister Bismah gets sick. Khan was “obsessed” with Little Women in her youth, and wrote, “I think I understood and could even relate to some of the societal and gender norms [the characters] faced as a child of Pakistani immigrants.” She added, “I always thought the story lent itself well to a retelling from a Pakistani American perspective.” She considered her story “a love letter to my favorite book!” (Khan).

Langdon, Lorie. Olivia Twist. Blink, 2018. 336 p. $18.99. 978-0-31076-341-3.
This continuation of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist (1838) imagines that Oliver was always Olivia, and had to keep her gender hidden as an easily-exploited orphan. Now sixteen and living a high society life with her cash-strapped guardian, Olivia has reverted to her thieving ways to support a group of orphans who know her as Oliver. Then she encounters the Artful Dodger once more, and her life takes a turn. As a child, the author loved imagining that Oliver was really a girl. “This way,” she said, “I could imagine myself as the heroine of the story and the Artful Dodger as the hero. In my childhood fantasies, the two would have endless adventures and eventually fall in love and escape from poverty” (Langdon).

McKinney, L.L. A Blade So Black. Square Fish.2019. 400 p. $10.99 pb. 978-1-25021-166-8.
Inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (1865), this story’s Alice, a Black teen, lives in modern Atlanta. As a dreamwalker, she secretly travels to Wonderland with the help of her trainer, Addison Hatta, to fight nightmares before they can escape into our world. The author wanted to write an adaptation of the classic that was “steeped in Black Girl Magic” (Author’s Note). As she tells readers in her afterword: “To those black kids searching countless shelves and between endless pages, hoping to catch a glimpse of themselves in galaxies far away, fantasies long ago, and stories here and now: This one’s for you. Shine on, and drive back the dark.”

McSmith, Tobly. Stay Gold. HarperTeen, 2020. 368 p. $18.99. 978-0-06294-317-0.
With S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders (1967) as inspiration, McSmith also sets his book in a Texas small-town high school with cheerleaders, football players, and outsiders. But here, outsider Pony is transgender, going “stealth” at a new school. On day one, he locks eyes with Georgia, a cheerleader who wants more from life than popularity. McSmith, who is transgender, sees books, and especially fiction, as “the ultimate safe space.” However, having rarely found books reflecting his own experience, he put it in the book “so that it creates a safe space for other trans people. And that so other people can read about our experiences and learn from them, and help create more safe spaces” (McSmith). The connection to The Outsiders came from reflections on the book’s toxic masculinity, which equated fighting with manhood, and the hope that “[m]anhood is no longer measured by aggression and force” (341). The original “stay gold” urged Ponyboy to stay innocent. Now, Georgia urges Pony to “Stay gold, Pony. Stay true to yourself when the world pushes against you…because you are exceptional, and everyone will catch up someday” (342).

Soontornvat, Christina. A Wish in the Dark.Candlewick, 2020. 384 p. $17.99. 978-1-53620-494-0.
In the city of Chattana, all artificial light comes from the dictatorial Governor, who reserves light for the worthy—and wealthy. Pong and Somkit, having been born in Namwon Prison, know they will never enjoy that light. Then Pong escapes, and Nok, daughter of the prison’s overseer, is determined to track him down. Having loved Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables (1862) in her youth, the author always wanted to adapt it, and found that setting it in a fantastical Thailand helped make it her own. As she said, “It is a love letter to Thailand for sure! The world in the book is based on my dad’s stories of growing up in Bangkok as a young boy. When I was a kid, those stories were so vivid and fairytale-like to me, and that mood is what I tried to bring into the story” (Soontornvat).

Teran, Andi. Ana of California. Penguin, 2015. 368 p. $16.00 Trade pb. 978-0-14312-649-2.
In this adaptation of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables (1908), Ana is a Latinx teen from Los Angeles, who has been in and out of foster homes and rough situations. At sixteen, her “last chance” is an internship on a Northern California farm run by a brother and sister. The author felt a strong kinship with the original Anne, and with Los Angeles. She chose to make Ana Latinx because, as she said, “I am Mexican American myself, so it was really important that my character reflect my heritage in that way. And I also wanted to write a story for young women with a Latina heroine, because it’s not something that you see typically in fiction” (Teran).

Terciero, Rey, and Bre Indigo, ill. Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2019. 256 p. $12.99 pb. 978-0-31652-288-5.
This graphic novel adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1868) sets the story in modern New York City, with a blended and multicultural family. Their military father is serving overseas, and each girl struggles with her own issues at home, including Jo coming to understand her own sexuality. The author, who is white, loved the original in his youth, finding the girls’ struggles “universal.” As to diversifying it, Terciero and the book’s illustrator, Bre Indigo, “wanted to see ourselves in the characters too, which is why we made the family diverse and one of the characters LGBTQ… Being LGBT myself, I’m just happy to be creating a book that I wish I could have read as a young reader” (Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy). Indigo, who is Black, says that “some of the character’s surface traits have been changed to allow for some readers to relate in ways they might not have been able to before” (Indigo).

Zoboi, Izzy. Pride. Balzer + Bray, 2019. 304 p. $10.99 pb. 978-0-06256-405-4.
Brooklyn native Zuri, an Afro-Latino teen, is proud of her family and her neighborhood. Wary of Brooklyn’s gentrification, as represented by her wealthy new neighbors the Darcys, Zuri is especially dismayed by the judgmental, arrogant Darius Darcy. Zoboi saw many themes in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813) that connected with gentrification. She also wanted to help students of color, forced to read the original, find their own connections to the story. “In the same way that wealthier newcomers to under-served neighborhoods erase the established cultures, this my very own way of reverse gentrifying the Brit-lit canon,” she said. As Austen commented on class and women’s issues, a “Haitian-Dominican teen in Brooklyn can grapple with those same issues” (Zoboi).

Other Works Cited

Benincasa, Sara. “Interview: Sara Benincasa on Young Adult Fiction, Anxiety, and Why Her Imagination Is like a Wild Animal.” Interview conducted by Alex Steed. Steed, BDN Maine Blog network, 10 Jan. 2014, steed.bangordailynews.com/2014/01/10/interview-sara-benincasa-on-young-adult-fiction-and-why-her-imagination-is-like-a-wild-animal/.

Cameron, Sharon. “Author Interview: Sharon Cameron.” Interview conducted by Kaleigh C. Maguire. Authography LLC, edited by Jacqui Lipton, 15 May 2014, kcmaguire.com/blog/author-interview-sharon-cameron.

—. “Blog Tour: Rook by Sharon Cameron – Interview and Giveaway.” Chapter by Chapter, 30 Apr. 2015, www.chapter-by-chapter.com/blog-tour-rook-by-sharon-cameron-interview-and-giveaway/.

Flans, Lauren, and Nicole Pacent, hosts. “Sara Benincasa.” Coming Out with Lauren & Nicole, episode 16, 26 Sept. 2018, comingoutpod.libsyn.com/episode-16-sara-benincasa-0.

Hand, Cynthia. “Question about Afterlife of Holly Chase.” Received by the author, 9 May 2020.

Indigo, Bre. “Rich Interviews: Bre Indigo Penciler: For Meg, Jo, Beth, & Amy: Little Women.” First Comics News, 15 Mar. 2018, www.firstcomicsnews.com/rich-interviews-bre-indigo-penciler-for-meg-jo-beth-amy-little-women/. Interview.

Khan, Hena. “Interview: Hena Khan.” Interview conducted by Bookvillageadmin. MG Book Village, 3 Sept. 2019, mgbookvillage.org/2019/09/03/interview-hena-khan/.

Langdon, Lorie. “Author Interview & Book Release: Lorie Langdon / Olivia Twist.” The Spinning Pen, 5 Apr. 2018, thespinningpen.com/2018/04/05/author-interview-book-release-lorie-langdon-olivia-twist/. Interview.

McSmith, Tobly, narrator. “How Safe Spaces Save Lives.” Harper Stacks, Harper Collins Studio, 25 May 2020. YouTube, www.youtube.com/watch?v=eeEOfih69YE.

“Meg, Jo, Beth, And Amy Celebrates The 150th Anniversary of Little Women as a Modernized Graphic Novel from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and Tapas Media.” Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Hachette, 6 Mar. 2018, www.lbyr.com/hachette-book-group-news/meg-jo-beth-and-amy-celebrates-the-150th-anniversary-of-little-women-as-a-modernized-graphic-novel-from-little-brown-books-for-young-readers-and-tapas-media/.

“Rook by Sharon Cameron Book Trailer.” YouTube, uploaded by Sharon Cameron, 12 Apr. 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=17&v=GlSDsV8SuMs&feature=emb_logo.

Soontornvat, Christina. “Author Interview: Magic, Writing & Durians; A Conversation with Christina Soontornvat, Author of MG Thai-Inspired Fantasy, A Wish in the Dark.” Interview conducted by Skye (Shuurens). The Quiet Pond: A Book Blog, 1 Apr. 2020, thequietpond.com/2020/04/01/author-interview-magic-writing-durians-a-conversation-with-christina-soontornvat-author-of-mg-thai-inspired-fantasy-a-wish-in-the-dark/.

Teran, Andi. “Interview with Andi Teran, Author of Ana of California.” Interview conducted by Chris Caraveo. Medium, 9 Oct. 2015, medium.com/@ChrisCaraveo31/interview-with-andi-teran-author-of-ana-of-california-69567b51b741.

Whitman, Walt. “O Me! O Life!” Leaves of Grass, 2008. The Gutenberg Project, www.gutenberg.org/files/1322/1322-h/1322-h.htm#link2H_4_0121. Accessed 20 Apr. 2020.

Zoboi, Ibi. “Walk the Jagged Streets of Gentrification with Ibi Zoboi’s Pride.” Interview conducted by Marie Marquardt. Teen Librarian Toolbox, School Library Journal, 20 Sept. 2018, www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2018/09/walk-the-jagged-streets-of-gentrification-with-ibi-zobois-pride-a-guest-post-by-marie-marquardt/.

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