175: Enjoy Revisiting the Classics through Retellings
In this Unabridged podcast episode, we share some retellings of classics that we've enjoyed reading. We share our picks including Hena Khan’s More to the Story, Patricia Park’s Re Jane, Rachel Hawkins’s The Wife Upstairs. These recommendations are perfect for the retellings category on our Unabridged Reading Challenge for 2021!
Our Retellings of Classics Recommendations
Mentioned in Episode
Lindsay Faye’s Jane Steele (Amazon | Bookshop.org)a
Our Book Club episode on Sonali Dev's Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors (episode 163)
Tana French's novels
Give Me One - Piece of Wisdom Shared with Us
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Sara said, "I am reading Amy Meyerson's The Bookshop of Yesterdays. It is a story about Miranda. It starts off in the beginning. She's a little girl, and she has this really special relationship with her uncle. His name is Billy, and he's her mother's brother. He comes and takes her and does special things with her. For gifts and things, he makes a game. He gives her these clues, and she has to go on a scavenger hunt to find them. So that's looking at the first few pages of the book. Then then we get Miranda: she's older, she is in her 20s. She is an eighth grade history teacher in Philadelphia, and she gets word that Billy has passed away. So she flies home to California for his funeral and to be with her parents. We find out that when Miranda was around 12 years old when there was a rift in the family, and she hadn't seen Billy since then and neither has her mother. So he's died, and they haven't had any contact whereas they used to be very close. So she receives a package in the mail, and it's Billy's last scavenger hunt for her. So I'm not going to give any spoilers, but she goes on this hunt to kind of find out what happened with Billy when she wasn't in contact with them.
"He happened also to own a bookstore called Prospero Books after The Tempest, and she becomes friends with the staff there. So it's about this bookshop. It's about this family. It's about a secret. And this last scavenger hunt that Billy has left for Miranda. It's a good story. I do get frustrated with Miranda a lot of the time, so sometimes that's hard when you feel frustrated, but I definitely wanted to hear how the story ended., and I'm so compelled to read it."
Jen shared Liz Moore's Long Bright River. She said, "It is excellent. I had a really hard time: I was reading it at breakfast this morning and did not want to put it down to finish getting ready for work, which is not a great situation. It's a bit of a mystery, but I would say it's a very character-driven mystery. It reminds me a little bit of Tana French's books, the way there are mysteries in those stories, but really, they're about the characters. There is a very compelling plot as well. But again, it's because it's illuminating these things about the characters. So the focus is on two sisters. Primarily, we see things from Mickey's point of view, and Mickey is in her 20s. She is a police officer in Philadelphia. She and her sister Casey were raised by their grandmother, and they experienced poverty, they had a really difficult upbringing. Mickey is now a mom, and her five-year-old son Thomas is just adorable and really, really smart. She is determined, as she's raising him alone, that he will not experience the same difficulties that she and Casey did. Her sister Casey is a drug addict, and she's a prostitute. Mickey has not spoken with her in a very, very long time. So Mickey is still a beat cop, basically. Even though she hasn't talked to Casey, she is always sort of looking out for her. She drives by the corner where she knows her sister works, and she knows who her friends are. So she kind of checks in without letting Casey know that she's checking in on her. She notices after a while that she hasn't seen her. That's not unusual to not see her for a few weeks, but it's been longer than usual. Then she's called to a homicide, and her first thought anytime she's called to a homicide is that it might be Casey. It's not, but the fact that it is a homicide of a prostitute makes her worry. Then more dead bodies start popping up in the same situation around the same area where her sister is working. So she is desperately trying to figure out what has happened to her sister, while also trying to raise her son—she has no support from his father—while also trying to hold it together as a police officer.
"One other really compelling part of the story is that she had a longtime partner named Truman, and he was injured on the job. So she for a little while, she is training a new police officer, and then she just can't get along with him anymore. So then she's working alone, but there's always this sort of the absence of Truman, and we're very aware of it because he was a mentor for Mickey and really taught her a lot. She can be a little impulsive, and she's not very good at playing politics. She has not always made friends with people who have power in the police department, and so she's always hearing Truman's wise advice kind of in her head and then not following what he would have advised her to do. So there's just there's a lot of reasons to read this book: really great insight into relationships and into family and the ways that family can let us down and the way people who aren't family can become like family and can really be there for us. Ss I was reading over breakfast, there was a big twist that happened, which is what made me really want to continue reading, so I'm desperate to know how it ends. I've got like 100 pages left. So I plan to finish that tonight. So that is Liz Moore's Long Bright River, and I absolutely love it.
Ashley said, "So I just started is Aiden Thomas's Lost in the Never Woods. I have heard such great things about Thomas's other work Cemetery Boys, which I have not read yet but cannot wait to read. I know that they've received a lot of praise for that and that it's a phenomenal book. This one is also perfect for this episode. I started it because I had seen it on bookstagram and I'm listening to it thanks to Libro.fm, and so I was intrigued by it when I saw it pop up on the ALC list and then realized, yeah, it works for this too. I should mention that part of why we're discussing revisiting the classics with retelling is because, as many of you know, for our Unabridged Pod Reading Challenge this year, that's one of the categories. So we wanted to give some suggestions of books that we've enjoyed. I'm only a little ways into this one, but this would be a perfect fit for the category because it is a retelling of Peter Pan. It is phenomenal so far. So when the story opens, we meet Wendy Darling. It's her 18th birthday. She is at the hospital with her best friend, Jordan; they both work there and help out in the nurse area (her mom is a nurse). So she does things to help out in that area, and when the story opens, her friend is trying really hard to make things celebratory for her, but there are all these police officers in the hospital, and there's this kind of ominous feeling. So she doesn't know what's going on, but she can tell that something is wrong. Finally, she gets it out of her friend that a young girl that she spends a lot of time with is missing. So the young girl comes to the hospital frequently because her mom needs dialysis, so when the girl—her name is Ashley Ford—when she is at the hospital, Wendy takes care of her. . . So this girl goes missing, and that is on the heels of another child a day or two before who also was missing, and the boy who was missing, people were not quite as concerned about at first because he had run away before. So there was some speculation, and it was easier for the community to dismiss his disappearance. He's a little bit older. So people were worried but not taking it quite as seriously, but then the second child disappears as well. . . . We come to understand that part of why is because five years earlier, she and her brothers had disappeared in the woods, and only Wendy was found. So they don't know what happened to the brothers, but they are gone, and they had been missing for six months when Wendy reappeared. She has no memory at all of that time period. So that was part of why the friends knew she'd be upset because she was close to a little girl, but also because it dredges up all of these memories of what happened with her brothers.
"Then she's driving on her way home after that, and she's kind of shaken but she is trying to head home. Meanwhile, she can't get out of her mind this tree that she keeps drawing. She's been drawing the tree kind of without meaning to, so it's like that idle doodling, but the doodling is something she doesn't seem to have any control over. Then she also has been drawing all these eyes, and it's the same pair of eyes of a boy that she can't get out of her mind. But she's never seen the boy as far as she's aware. So all those things are swirling in her mind as she's driving through these creepy woods. Then suddenly, on her drive, something black comes across her car and causes her to swerve off the road. She realizes that there is a body in the road. So she pulls off on the side and realizes that something is there in the road, and when she goes over to the body, it's Peter, who she has never seen in real life but has told all these stories of to her brothers when they were little. So it's Peter, like Peter Pan, and Wendy had always told those stories to her younger brothers and has this image of him. . . . I am completely captivated. The audio is excellent. It is ominous, but I also appreciate it's shining a particular light on a classic, and I think sometimes when we think about retellings, it's interesting to see how the authors choose to cast light on a story that's commonly known. So again, that's Aiden Thomas's Lost in the Never Woods."
Sarah shared Veronica Roth's Divergent. She said, "I know this is an old favorite for a lot of people, and honestly, I could keep rereading this book until the end of time. I just finished a really intensely beautiful, but also emotional historical fiction book, All the Light We Cannot See, and I just wanted to go back to a story I was familiar with after that until I felt ready to pick up my next new read. So I'm back in the Divergent story. I love to recommend this book to my students and the whole series to my students because while it was written a decade ago, and we are getting some new anniversary covers, which is cool, it does have incredible tie ins to our world and society. The characters are really interesting people that you can identify with: they're stubborn, they can be afraid, they can be curious, they can be adventurous, and you can immediately see yourself in them, but you can also see yourself within the factions as well. The faction system is a really big part of Divergent in that those are the groups that people live in based on their strongest personality traits. So potentially their honesty, or their adventurous nature, or their intelligence. The pacing of the book is incredible. It's nonstop action, right? Regardless of the fact that I know what's going to happen, as it's a reread for me, I'm so breezing through it because I want to relive what happens next.
"A really interesting component of the story for me is the idea of fear landscapes, which is where individuals experience their fears in a simulation and have to combat them before they're able to wake up. So not only do I think it's really interesting, as I read along to think about what faction I might be in—for me, it's Dauntless—but what my fear landscape might contain, right? The romance itself is also really interesting to me as a not-so-often romance lover, and the character Four is one of my favorite male book characters. It is part of the story, but the romance doesn't take up the whole story. I'm really looking forward to getting back into this world fully and trying to find some of those new connections that I might have missed the first time that I read the book."
Main Segment - Retellings of Classics Recommendations
Jen recommend Patricia Park's Re Jane, a retelling of Jane Eyre. She said, "This Jane was born in Korea. Her mother was Korean, and her father was an American soldier. She did not know him at all, but her family has told her this; her mother died when she was a toddler, and her family, especially her grandfather (the head of the family) did not approve of her because she is half-American. Her uncle Sang moved to United States to start a family business there, and basically the grandfather says either he can take in Jane or she's going to go to an orphanage. So Sang and his wife Hannah do take in Jane. They are childless at that time, but then after they have a daughter and a son, so Jane and her cousins are raised together. She feels like it's been a very rough upbringing. Her family owns a grocery store, and she has to work there. She feels like she can never do anything right, that no matter what path she takes, no matter how well she does in school, no matter what decision she makes, that her aunt and uncle are very, very critical of her. So for example, she got into a very prestigious university but knew that her family couldn't afford to send her there. So she chose to go to a less prestigious school that was more affordable, and her uncle has never stopped criticizing her for that decision, even though she felt like she was doing it on behalf of her family. So as she was graduating from college, she got a job at a very prestigious brokerage firm, and this is technically historical fiction, it happened when the economy was quite bad, and the brokerage firm basically goes broke, and all of the new hires coming out of college who had jobs, those jobs are eliminated. So Jane came out of school with this very bright future despite having gone to this less prestigious university or university, and then she's jobless and stuck still working at the same grocery store." Be sure to listen to find out more about Re Jane!
Sara shared Rachel Hawkins's The Wife Upstairs. She said, "So mine is also a retelling of Jane Eyre, but much different. . . . This is kind of a Southern/Gothic/domestic suspense book. It is about Jane who is new in town. It's Birmingham, Alabama. She is a dog walker in Thornfield Estates, this big community that has these huge mansions and all of these ladies who meet and have like wine at lunch and that type of thing. She walks dogs for the people in the community, and she happens to run into Eddie Rochester, who has recently lost his wife Bea in a drowning, and he happens to have a dog that was Bea's that he needs to have to be walked, and so she starts walking his dog. We find out that Jane has this mysterious past. She doesn't really have any connections, and she refers to the past but it's very murky, and you get this feeling that you're going to find out some stuff that has happened to her. . . . She ends up developing this friendship with Eddie and then starts to fall for him. You also find out that his wife is not dead: he has her locked in this panic room in the upstairs, and you get these interspersing chapters of her point of view, which is really unsettling. It's really compelling. I think." Check out the episode to hear what Sara thought of the ending of The Wife Upstairs.
Ashley said, "So listeners know that I love Hena Khan. She wrote Amina's Voice and Amina's Song, and I plan to read everything she writes. I think that she does middle grade really well. So I saw More to the Story by her at our local bookstore, and I didn't realize at first that it was a retelling, but it is a retelling of Little Women. . . . In this one Jameela is the main character, and she is one of four sisters. Like the ones that you all shared, Khan nods to the source material quite a bit throughout, but it is a very different story also. So you do have the connections: there are four sisters, there are some similarities, even as far as their names and stuff like that their age separation. So you see those connections, but again, you know, a unique story as well.
"Jameela is in middle school, and she is passionate about writing. She wants to be a journalist and is interested in the school newspaper. She was really involved in it her sixth grade year, and this is her seventh grade year, and she wants to be involved but also has a vision for what she thinks the newspaper could be that is different than a lot of the people on staff. So a lot of them are interested in what she considers to be really mundane topics and just kind of breezy things that are fun for people to read, but not very serious. She wants to explore serious topics with debates and to show different perspectives. So that's one thread of the story, but as the story gets going, you find out that her dad has lost his job and that although her parents are trying to protect the the daughters from the financial worries, it's causing strain. So they're worried about their finances, and early on, he has to take a job in Abu Dhabi, and he's going to be gone for a minimum of six months. The girls have never been away from him before and certainly not for such an extended period of time, so they're all really upset. But Jameela and her older sister are trying to put on a brave face for their two younger siblings, but it is a big adjustment for them." Head over to the episode to find about the parallels with Little Women.
Give Me One - Piece of Wisdom Shared with Us
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