Why Renditions of Classic Books Don’t Always Work in YA Literature

Why Renditions of Classic Books Don’t Always Work in YA Literature

By Nyla Lee

Nostalgia has taken the world by storm.

Reboots here. Retellings there. Revivals popping up in your living room. They’re practically everywhere.

And quite honestly, they have never stopped occurring in YA literature.

Many books may take inspiration from a classic book and transform it into a unique interpretation of the original work.


Why Don’t Renditions of Classic Books Always Work in YA?

At the same time, authors that do this approach can quickly lose themselves in trying to make a difference. But may it be the characters or the storyline, renditions of classic books just don’t always work.

Are you curious to know why? Here are four good reasons renditions of classic books don’t always work.

Reasons Renditions of Classic Books Don’t Always Work in YA Literature - KIDPRESSROOM

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Renditions of Classic Books Lose the Original Meaning

One of the primary aspects of classic books is the themes and morals the author presents to you.

For example, Pride and Prejudice presented themes of love, marriage, class, and of course, pride and prejudice. The entire story is built upon the foundation of Elizabeth and Darcy suffering from equal parts pride and prejudice as they interact with one another.

Ibi Zoboi’s colorful retelling of Jane Austen’s novel–titled Pride–had the potential to be a compelling take on class and gentrification through the lens of Pride and Prejudice. But while the author incorporated people of color and beautiful writing, the story fell flat.

Pride’s takes on class and gentrification appeared watered down for the sake of the love story. In that, it also falls flat and loses sight of its themes and character motivations.

It also may differ from its inspiration with the amount of diversity present in the book. Its take on the issues does not hold up to the way Pride and Prejudice handles themes of class and prejudice.

This brings on another issue with renditions of classic books in YA literature: the loss of original characters and their traits.

The Characters from Renditions Are Different From Their Original Counterparts

Imagine this: you’ve just found a retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. You sit down and get cozy as you start getting into the book.

About sixty pages in, you get restless and exhausted from the dialogue.

You start pointing out flaws and issues with the characters. Why don’t their actions make sense? Why does it hardly fit with the plot?

And you know what it is?

Many renditions of classic books seem to forget about the memorable characters that contributed to the original’s fame.

Classic book renditions function like sequels to YA trilogies. The first book will succeed tremendously, while the sequels lose the charm and originality of their predecessor and, as a result, complicates their success.

This is the same with classic book renditions. The characters hardly shadow their original counterparts and worsen the book’s success.

While the rendition would be technically different from the original, the characters should have traits that make it easy for you to point out their role.


Modern Settings Do Not Always Work with Classic Book Renditions

Many classic books take place in early historical settings.

From Jane Austen’s Emma to Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, much of the setting tends to take place in a time period completely separate from ours.

This is what makes the books such classics. The simplicity of hands touching and longing gazes means so much in certain time periods. This is especially true of the regency era and other eras similar to that.

But when you throw a classic’s original plot into the twenty-first century, it completely eradicates the longing and heady gazes that made the original so classic.

Granted, the authors who wrote these classics were within the time period of their stories. However, this does not diminish the point by any means.

An author writing to fit their time period is not a strange occurrence. The issue arises when the classic works best with that time period or an alternate version of it.

Setting some classic books in the modern world causes them to lose their charm entirely. It takes away from the interest of escaping to previous time periods and makes readers face reality under the guise of a rendition.

This change also brings up the final issue: going too far to be different.

Renditions Go To Great Lengths to be Different

As an author, you want your book to be the hottest thing talked about in YA circles.

But you don’t want to be that predictable writer who overuses tropes and YA cliches that steer readers from your content.

No author wants to chase away their audience, especially those who use classic books as their foundation for starting a novel.

They want something exciting and fresh. Something to pull in their audiences and engage with them through flowery words.

Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies–although not technically a YA novel–takes the story of Shakespeare’s beloved Romeo and Juliet, and spins it on its head. How does it spin, you may ask?

Romeo is a zombie who differs from his other undead brethren. He falls for a human girl named Julie in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, which is where their differences lie.

While the story is cute and the ending subverts the Romeo and Juliet ending, its attempt at being different from its inspiration turns it into something that seems nothing like Shakespeare’s story.

Having a story that’s different from its inspiration is certainly not an issue. In fact, it’s best that your book is unique and different.

The problem is that sometimes these lengths to strive for difference and uniqueness can unintentionally hurt the rendition.

Renditions of classic books have lots riding on their success, excluding their premise and author.

There is an expectation in YA literature for the books to keep enough of the same attributes from the original, while still bringing new ideas.

These expectations can diminish quickly if the rendition is too similar to the original inspiration or too different to classify as a retelling.

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Conclusion on Why Renditions of Classic Books Don’t Always Work in YA Literature

All in all, classic books have a special place in readers’ hearts.

So much so that renditions of classic books have become an increasingly popular thing in YA literature.

Unfortunately, not all renditions of classic books can stand the test of expectations put on them and their authors.

From losing the original meaning of the book to struggling from trying to be too different, classic book renditions may suffer terribly in YA literature.

Their source of inspiration tends to overshadow the rendition as people pick and prod at the differences and issues in their respective texts. And it results in negatively-received books with hurt authors.

How do you feel about classic book renditions? Do you think they bring another perspective or should we all stick to reading the originals?