November 20, 2017

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Media Mania—Magic and Mayhem: Mesmerizing Fairy Tale Retellings for Teens

Told aGrimmnd retold through the centuries, ever-evolving and repeatedly re-envisioned, folk and fairy tales continue to captivate imaginations. In fact, unwavering interest in theseJack the Giant Slayer stories have sparked an onslaught of media offerings: fairy-tale-inspired series Grimm (NBC) and Once Upon a Time (ABC) are reeling in TV viewers, and the spring movie season includes Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (an R-rated action/horror film in which Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton play the fabled pair, now grown up and working as weapon-wielding vigilantes) and Jack the Giant Slayer (a 3-D adventure that stars Nicholas Hoult and boasts a solid supporting cast).

Take the opportunity to booktalk or display a selection of splendid retellings of folk and fairy tales written for teens. The genre’s integral themes of transformation, self-realization, burgeoning independence, and first love are ready-made for a young adult audience, and these titles utilize a variety of writing styles, settings, and storytelling tones to explore timeless motifs in imaginative and appealingly contemporary ways. These reader-pleasing books are jam-packed with personal challenges, thrilling adventures, magical happenings, and heady romance. With their balance of the old and the new, the familiar and the fresh, these novels are also great choices for teen book discussion groups, or they can be used in the classroom to examine how modern works of fiction draw on themes, characters, and plotlines from traditional tales (Common Core State Standards RL. 8.9).

Fabulously Futuristic

CinderWhat if Cinderella was a cyborg? Marissa Meyer introduces 16-year-old Cinder (2012; Gr 7 Up), a human girl with surgically implanted robot components who lives on a futuristic Earth that’s beleaguered by a deadly plague and the threat of invasion from Lunars (mind-controlling moon dwellers). Hated by her stepmother and spurned by a society that views cyborgs with distain, she earns her keep by toiling away as a mechanic in New Beijing’s marketplace. When word of her skill brings Prince Kai—a kind young man with a “heart-stopping smile”—to her booth with a request to repair his household android before an upcoming ball, Cinder is launched into an amazing adventure fueled by political intrigue, heart-pounding danger, secrets about her past, and a touch of against-the-odds romance. Meyer transmogrifies traditional Cinderella tropes and plot rudiments into a rocket-paced read set in an intricately imagined dystopian world. The first of four planned novels in the “Lunar Chronicles” series, Cinder’s story continues in and interconnects with that of the just-released Scarlet (2013, both Feiwel and Friends)—think Little Red Riding Hood. Cinder is also available in an unabridged audio edition from Macmillan Audio.

Rosalinda “Rose” Fitzroy, long-lost heir to a multiplanetary corporation, has been locked away in a chemically induced slumber for 62 years. Awakened from A Long Long Sleep (Candlewick, 2011; Gr 8 Up) by the kiss of a boy named Bren, who discovers her stasis tube abandoned in the subbasement of their condo, the astounded 16-year-old learns that she has slept through the plague-infested Dark Times and the death of her parents and boyfriend. Feeling lonely and weak from “stass fatigue,” Rose views herself as a freak—a girl “out-of-date, out of touch, out of time.” Her adjustment to her new reality is made more harrowing by the power struggles among the “nobility” of UniCorp who perceive her as a threat, her growing crush on Bren, and revelations about her own family’s appalling secrets. Meanwhile, a relentless killing machine programmed to assassinate her is determined to fulfill its mission. Contemplating the question of what would happen after Sleeping Beauty woke up, Anna Sheehan has created a captivating and thought-provoking tale that explores themes as diverse as the abuse of technology, learning to take control of one’s life, alienation, and the power and pain of true love.

Compellingly Contemporary

FathomlessIn Fathomless (2012; 9 Up), Jackson Pearce provides a dark-as-the-ocean-deeps take on Hans Christian Andersen’s “Little Mermaid” that will make readers forget all about Ariel and Sebastian the singing crab. Like her beautiful and outgoing triplet sisters, shy Celia has an usual ability—with a simple touch, Anne can see a person’s future, Jane can see the present, and Celia can see the past. She thinks of her talent as pretty much useless, until she and a mysterious girl work together to rescue a boy named Jude from drowning. Amazingly, Lo reveals that she lives in the ocean and has no memory of her past, but with Celia’s help, she begins to recall details of her long-ago life. The more Lo remembers, the more she longs to return to this existence, but knows that the only way she can regain her human soul is by seducing and killing Jude, who has become Celia’s boyfriend. Alternating first-person chapters describe Lo’s shadowy underwater world and conflicted emotions and Celia’s attempts to establish independence from her sisters and navigate her first romance. Readers will enjoy trawling the depths of a tale that mixes spine-tingling suspense with heartfelt sacrifice and terrifying paranormal occurrences with fairytale-style salvation. Point readers toward the author’s Sisters Red (2010, both Little, Brown) and other works to further explore her searingly re-imagined fairytale world.

A week before her sweet 16, Mirabelle runs away from home and her two loving but overbearing godmothers and boards a bus to the one place they have forbidden her to go—Beau Rivage, the city where she was born and her parents are buried. Despite the town’s seaside resort trappings, strange secrets lurk beneath the surface, and Mira soon discovers that the residents have been cursed and are doomed to play out ancient fairytale scenarios again and again. Mira’Kill Me Softlys birthmark (or “märchen mark”) reveals her to be a “Somnolent,” fated to prick her finger and fall into an enchanted sleep à la Snow White. Many of the other young adults she encounters, including the intoxicatingly charismatic Felix and his prickly but equally attractive younger brother Blue, each have secrets and storied destinies of their own. Will Mira be able to break the magical cycle, save herself and her true love, and determine her own future? In Sarah Cross’s Kill Me Softly (Egmont, 2012; Gr 9 Up), fairytale characters and touchstones have been re-envisioned with a sharp-honed modern-day edge, a realistic setting that believably spins off into fantasy, and a plot powered by mystery and a palpable sense of peril. Mira is a strong protagonist who grapples not only with frightening villains, but with issues of self-realization, free-will versus fate, and figuring out the ways of the heart. It’s also available in an unabridged audio edition.

Riveting and Romantic

Strands of Bronze and GoldJane Nickerson adroitly weaves the threads of the “Bluebeard” story into Strands of Bronze and Gold (Knopf, 2013; Gr 8 Up) to create a spellbinding tapestry of mystery, romance, and suspense. It’s 1855, and after her father dies, 17-year-old Sophie leaves behind her modest Boston home and journeys south to take up residence with her wealthy godfather at his sumptuous Mississippi estate. Monsieur Bernard is unexpectedly handsome and charismatic, and Sophie finds herself beguiled by his magnetic personality and luxurious life style. However, horrible truths are buried at Wyndriven Abbey, and Sophie slowly begins to piece together shadowy stories about her godfather’s ill-fated wives… all of whom had fiery tresses similar to her own. Her doubts build as Monsieur Bernard turns from generous guardian to chillingly insistent suitor, and it seems as though a noose is slowly closing around her neck. A grippingly gothic tale, with a lavishly described and lushly atmospheric setting and likable heroine. Also available in an audio edition.

Like the rhyme says, Sunday Woodcutter, the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, is supposed to be “blithe and bonny and good and gay,” but in fact, she feels lonely and overshadowed by her talented older siblings, and finds solace only in writing stories (which have the Enchantedannoying tendency of coming true). Meeting an enchanted frog in the woods, she shares her tales, and the two strike up a friendship that gradually changes into something deeper. Unbeknownst to Sunday, a kiss they share restores the frog to his human form, that of Crown Prince Rumbold, a man wholeheartedly despised by the Woodcutter family. Longing to see Sunday again, the prince organizes a trio of balls, but decides to keep his identity a secret due to the feud between their families. The twists and turns of their up-and-down love affair are made more arduous by a dark force that threatens Rumbold and the entire kingdom. This page-turner is packed with everything from warring fairy godmothers to a pirate queen to a menacing made-from-magic giant. Althea Kontis blithely blends fairy tale fundamentals with original elements to create a world that is not only Enchanted (Harcourt, 2012; Gr 7-9), but absolutely enchanting.

Jessica Day George’s account of the filled-with-magic adventures—and romances—of 12 royal siblings began in Princess of the Midnight Ball (2009), a retelling of the “Twelve Dancing Princesses” that focuses on the eldest of the cursed-to-dance, named-for-flowers sisters, Rose. In the latest installment, Princess of the Silver Woods (2012, both Bloomsbury; Gr 5-9), the youngest girl takes center stage. Clothed in her new red cloak, 16-year-old Princess Petunia is traveling to visit an elderly family friend when her carriage is besieged by a band of thieves wearing wolf masks. When she’s accidentally kidnapped by their leader, who’s rather good-looking and isn’t much older than herself, Petunia learns that Oliver is actually a noble who has been forced into a life of crime by injustices perpetuated upon his family. As he tries to set things right, Oliver notices that the princess is being hounded by evil shadows, and soon finds himself in the midst of the sisters’ battle to stay out of the clutches of the fearsome King Under Stone. Breezy, with just enough danger and with fun-to-notice parallels to “Little Red Riding Hood,” this novel will please series fans and perhaps win over new readers.

Told with Glitter and Grit

Calamity JackThe characters from the graphic novel Rapunzel’s Revenge (2008) return in another rip-roaring adventure. This time, the action focuses on Calamity Jack (2010; both Bloomsbury; Gr 5-9), a well-meaning but none-too wise city boy who tries to help his hardworking mother by earning funds from a variety of ill-conceived schemes (including a failed magic bean fiasco). After meeting Rapunzel out West (see the first volume), the two return to Shyport, and Jack discovers that Momma—and the entire town—is under the extra-large thumb of a cruel and corrupt giant. It will take all of Jack’s courage and can-do spirit, along with the help of Rapunzel and her lasso-like braids and a young journalist named Freddie Sparksmith, to bring Blunderboar down (literally). Shannon and Dean Hale’s rollicking script skillfully intertwines fast-moving events with awe-shucks romance, and Nathan Hale’s crisp artwork vibrantly defines the characters and creates a backdrop of grimy streets and hidden alleyways. Jack’s transformation from knave to knight-in-shining armor is captivatingly witty and wonder-filled.

Robert Paul Weston sets his fractured fairy tale on the mean streets of Dust City (Razorbill, 2010; Gr 8 Up), a mob-infested metropolis peopled by both animalia (intelligent, human-size animals) and hominids (elves, dwarves, humans, etc.). Everyone wants to get their hands—or paws—on dust. Manufactured locally and sold on the black-market, this mind-altering substance is a poor substitute for the real thing, fairydust, Dust Citywhich has been impossible to obtain since the fairies mysteriously disappeared. Henry Whelp has lived at the St. Remus Home for Wayward Youth since his father was imprisoned for the double homicide of a little old lady and her granddaughter, a crime apparently committed after taking dust. Escaping from the Home, Henry follows up on suspicions that his father may have been framed, and goes undercover to infiltrate the operation of a mobster named Skinner. Despite the help of a human friend, Jack, and an attractive she-wolf named Fiona, Henry soon finds himself deep in danger and way over his head. It’s noir meets happily ever after as Weston plunges his protagonist into the depths of a deftly delineated and superbly seedy underworld, filled with down-on-their luck reprobates and cruel-hearted bad guys (err, dwarves and water nixies), and the surprisingly successful incongruity makes Henry’s heroic actions and ultimate redemption all the more satisfying.

Publication Information

MEYER, Marissa. Cinder. Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan. 2012. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780312641894; pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781250007209; eBook $9.99. ISBN 9781466800113; Compact Disc (Macmillan Audio). $39.99. ISBN 9781427215000.

SHEEHAN, Anna. A Long Long Sleep. Candlewick. 2011. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-76365-260-9; pap. $7.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-6346-9; eBook. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-5605-8.

PEARCE, Jackson. Fathomless. Little, Brown. 2012. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-316-20778-2; eBook. $9.99. ISBN 9780316207799.

CROSS, Sarah. Kill Me Softly. Egmont. 2012. Tr. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-60684-323-9; eBook $17.99. ISBN 978-1-60684-324-6; Unabridged Compact Disc. $44. ISBN 978-0-449-01038-9.

NICKERSON, Jane. Strands of Bronze and Gold. Knopf. March 2013. PLB $19.99. ISBN 978-0-375-97118-1; Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-307-97598-0; eBook $10.99. ISBN 978-0-307-97606-2; Unabridged Compact Disc. $55. ISBN 978-0-385-36123-1.

KONTIS, Althea. Enchanted. Harcourt. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-547-64570-4; eBook. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-547-82235-8.

GEORGE, Jessica Day. Princess of the Silver Woods. Bloomsbury. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-59990-646-1.

HALE, Shannon & Dean. Calamity Jack. illus. by Nathan Hale. Bloomsbury. 2010. Tr $19.99. ISBN 978-1-59990076-6; pap. $15.99. ISBN 978-1-59990373-6.

WESTON, Robert Paul. Dust City. Razorbill/Penguin. 2010. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-59514-296-2; pap. $8.99. ISBN 978-1-59514-425-6; eBook $8.99. ISBN 9781101462386.

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Joy Fleishhacker About Joy Fleishhacker

Joy Fleishhacker is a librarian, former SLJ staffer, and freelance editor and writer who works at the Pikes Peak Library District in southern Colorado.

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  1. Thanks for this great list. I have a particular interest in this genre. Looking forward to checking out those here that I haven’t yet! – Mm