4 Immersive YA Novels Inspired by Folklore & Fairy Tales | Spotlight

These YA novels that draw on folklore and fairy tales feature magic, monsters, adventure, and plots that are sure to keep readers turning pages.

These novels that draw on folklore and fairy tales feature magic, monsters, adventure, and plots that are sure to keep readers turning pages.


Howard, Hanna. Our Divine Mischief384p. HarperCollins/Blink. Oct. 2023. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780310156222.
Gr 7 Up–Seventeen-year old Aila finally has her mother’s approval to go to the island where the goddess Ysla awaits to award her the medallion that will give her status in the community. But upon arrival, Aila discovers only a rambunctious puppy and no sign of the goddess. Returning home a failure, with a puppy in tow, the priests announce a series of trials for Alia to endure in order to earn her medallion. The priests assign Hew, one of the “unblessed”—a person who returned with a blank medallion and is forced to provide menial services—to look after her and keep things organized, on track, and understandable during the trials. The trials are physically difficult and emotionally overwhelming; but her dog, Orial, provides Aila comfort, resources, and a magic that cements their bond. When the third trial goes awry, bringing politics, violence, and an awareness that Orial might be a key to great power, Orial’s life is endangered. Aila and Hew take action to ensure her safety,  even at the risk of their own. Told in alternating chapters, including Orial’s poetic voice, this fantasy sets readers firmly in Scottish folklore, cementing the story as part romance, part political intrigue, part thriller, and at its heart, a dog story. Readers will root for the three protagonists as they struggle to save Orial, alert their community to the dangers alive in the kingdom, and prove to themselves and their community that they belong and are worthy. VERDICT Offer this book to readers who enjoy their fantasy mixed with a folklore twist, romance, and, of course, dogs.–Connie Williams

Krause, Autumn. Before the Devil Knows You’re Here. 240p. Peachtree Teen. Oct. 2023. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781682636473.
Gr 9 Up–Since the death of her mother, Catalina and her younger brother have frequently moved between cabins in the Wisconsin wilderness with their dreamy father. Teenaged Catalina once wrote poetry but has since abandoned her passion, instead working to keep her family fed. With the sudden appearance of three apples outside their door, Catalina’s father erupts into uncharacteristic violence, but this is only the beginning of the family’s new woes. A sudden illness claims her father and at his deathbed a monster appears; the monster abducts her brother, and Catalina is left determined to pursue them both. On her hunt, she meets a lumberjack named Paul, also searching for the monster. As the two journey deeper into the wilderness, they begin to learn just how entwined their pasts may be with the Man of Sap. In this book told in dual time lines, readers follow Catalina on her quest for the Man of Sap, while learning how the monster’s bargain with the devil caused him to become that way. Readers will slowly connect the work’s abundant symbolism to the stories of Johnny Appleseed and Paul Bunyan. The work also draws on the Bible and the poetry of Mexican writer Sor Juana. Elements of horror twine to create the feeling of a haunting American folktale, with apples—themselves symbols of both vitality and decay—at the center. Multiple scenes of animal death are included. Catalina and her brother are biracial Mexican and white. VERDICT A lyrical story of greed, generational curses, forgiveness, and self-acceptance, this folkloric tale is a must-read.–Maggie Mason Smith

Purdie, Kathryn. The Forest Grimm. 352p. Wednesday Bks. Sept. 2023. Tr $20. ISBN 9781250873002.
Gr 8 Up–Clara’s grandmother has only ever pulled two cards from her fortune-telling deck when scrying for Clara’s future—the Midnight Forest and the Fanged Creature. At nine years old, Clara is already destined to make a forbidden choice ending in her untimely death (“Tell me again, Grandmère, the story of how I die.”). That choice comes seven years later when Clara decides to enter the Forest Grimm in the hopes of finding her mother and reversing the curse on her village. With help from her mother’s red cloak, Clara sneaks into the forest with Axel, her childhood friend, to find Sortes Fortunae, the Book of Fortunes. The book was a gift from the Forest Grimm and protected Grimm’s Hollow from misfortune; it was hidden in the forest after a villager used it to commit murder, causing Grimm’s Hollow to become parched and impoverished. Plucky Clara must face the dangers of the forest and her imminent death in her hunt for the book in order to save her mother and her village. VERDICT Purdue pulls from many original fairy tales to create this twisty yet enchanting romantasy. It will appeal to fans of the TV show Once Upon a Time and Meagan Spooner’s Hunted.–Maria Martin

Simmons, Kristen. Find Him Where You Left Him Dead. 272p. Tor Teen. Sept. 2023. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781250851123.
Gr 9 Up–Four years ago, Maddy, Emerson, Dax, Owen, and Ian went into a small cave near the banks of the Ohio River. Finding a deck of cards painted with kanji, Japanese characters, the five begin to play a game. Only four of them leave the tunnel, not really remembering what happened to Ian. In the four years since, the friends have gone their separate ways, but when they begin to see Ian again, they know they need to finish the game. As they begin to play Karuta, a simple matching game, the four friends descend through a mad world filled with yokai, oni, and many terrifying elements of traditional Japanese folklore. The story is soaked in mythology, but even readers unfamiliar with it will not find this element confusing, and the characters are multifaceted in a way that makes it easy to connect with them and their situation. A very fast-paced tale that never lets up, this book is perfect for the spooky season and beyond, giving readers a new kind of horror novel that will fly off the shelves. The end hints at a sequel. VERDICT An excellent read, and one that is unique in the young adult section.–Adam Fisher

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