Karen B's Recommendations

Classics vs. Contemporary Retellings

Classic stories earn their place on our booklists for good reason—they are tales with universal truths, relatable characters, and gripping plots. Our favourite novels line our bookshelves with pride, but let’s admit it, they often need a good dusting.

Contemporary writers aren’t afraid to slide those tomes off the shelf and give them a good shake, presenting them in freshly polished versions. Most writers like to play around with the fable-like originals by introducing plot twists, gender-swaps, and global settings to take us from the known and comfortable to the unfamiliar and challenging. Sometimes, the tale takes a spin in a new genre or adds elements of humour or science fiction to a once-serious literary drama. Whatever its origins, the new version invites us to rediscover the enduring truths and themes of the original.

I’ve paired up a few classics here with their contemporary counterparts, but it’s up to you to decide who tells it better—our beloved stars or the dazzling new protégé?


Quichotte by Salmon Rushdie jacket coverQuichotte by Salmon Rushdie

Original: Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

First up is a tale of unrequited love: Quichotte by Salmon Rushdie. While Rushdie is an acclaimed author of award-winning “serious” literature, this retelling is a fun take on the timeless Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes. Rushdie’s story begins with Sam DuChamp, a writer of spy thrillers, who creates a character named Quichotte, a travelling salesman obsessed with a TV star. The lives of Sam and Quichotte begin to blur as their quests intertwine. Anyone who has ever been mesmerized by a celebrity will identify with Rushdie’s version of the unrequited lover.



A Study in Charlotte jacket coverA Study in Charlotte by Britanny Cavallero

Original: A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

For those who love a dynamic duo, there’s Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson in A Study in Charlotte by Britanny Cavallero. As descendants of the famous Sherlock and Watson sleuths, Charlotte and Jamie inevitably team up to solve the suspicious death of a fellow student at their Connecticut boarding school. This novel, the first in a series for young adults, will appeal to fans of Ally Carter and Maureen Johnson, as well as the TV show, Elementary.




When She Woke jacket coverWhen She Woke by Hillary Jordan

Original: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Speaking of scarlet, you might consider Hillary Jordan’s When She Woke, a futuristic version of The Scarlet Letter.  “When She Woke tells the story of a stigmatized woman struggling to navigate an America of a not-too-distant future, where the line between church and state has been eradicated and convicted felons are no longer imprisoned and rehabilitated but chromed--their skin color is genetically altered to match the class of their crimes--and then released back into the population to survive as best they can. Hannah is a Red; her crime is murder” (Publisher). Fans of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and P.D. James’ The Children of Men will appreciate this cautionary tale.


Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe jacket coverPride and Prejudice and Mistletoe by Melissa De la Cruz

Original: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Finally, if you’re looking for a new take on Jane Austen’s classic, Pride and Prejudice, you have a wide variety of modern retellings to choose from in more than one genre. From zombies to kittens, California to Ohio, it seems writers have taken Jane Austen’s words to heart and indulged their imagination “in every possible flight.”

Got a favourite retelling of a classic? Let us know and we’ll highlight it for our followers.