I’m continuing with my dark academia theme this week by presenting to you contemporary books that I think pair well with beloved classic literature. Literature can be serious and still be both light-hearted and accessible. However, I personally found that most classics weren’t relevant to me until my twenties. There are so many people who still view young adult contemporary books as inferior an it makes my blood boil.
Classics have almost no representation and casual racism and homophobia can be found and many of them. While I believe many classics are the backbone to (and even inspiration for) many modern books today, there is a level of elitism that comes with believing only classics are “true” literature. I personally wish more YA was taught in high school classrooms but that’s a different topic for another day.
I will add that some of these book pairings make more sense to the reader if they’ve read or have at least some background understanding of the original classic. I hope you enjoy!
Click the photos to add to your Goodreads!
If You Struggled with Speak by Laurie H. Anderson, Try Reading…
Sadie tackles heavy topics such as poverty, pedophilia, and sexual assault. Speak is a book about rape and rape culture. Both books deal with no one believing the perpetuator would carry out such acts due to them being some sort of pillar to their respective communities (to put it simply, they are popular). I think Sadie was very refreshing, especially due to the podcast element.
If You Struggled with Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Try Reading…
While I do think that Pride was too short and wasn’t able to expand on all the major themes that occur in Pride and Prejudice, it was exactly what it said it would be—a remix. The backdrop is Brooklyn and Zuri is proud to rep her hood. She’s also a little to proud as well as stubborn. The story follows a similar narrative (you can read the synopsis on Goodreads) that I thought was funny and light-hearted while covering the main themes of the original but with more spunk, in my opinion.
If You’ve Struggled with The Diary of Anne Frank, Try Reading…
The first time I read Dear Martin, I was immediately reminded of Anne Frank. During the Holocaust, Anne Frank is a Jew hiding from the Nazis. She spends her time writing in her diary asking life’s big questions with no answers that follow. Justyce (or “Jus”) is grappling with being Black in a predominately white private school. At one point, he is arrested by the police over trying to help a drunk lighter-skinned friend home and then later has to deal with one of his friends with shot and killed by police. In the aftermath of these injustices, Justyce begins to pen letters to Dr. Martin Luther King to try to understand his world.
If You No Longer Support the Harry Potter series by JKR, Try Reading…
Firstly, I would like to say that when I first read Children of Blood and Bone I thought it was amazing (and still do). Looking back, there are a lot of issues I have with it but it’s a debut so I’ll let it slide. When I finished this book, I was completely wrecked and I literally finished it sobbing in my closet. If you want a diverse, fast-paced, heart-stopping book about magical kids you’re in for a ride. Why I think CoBaB is a good alternative to Harry Potter:
- Both have themes on Good vs. Evil
- Both have a friendship trio
- Both have magical competitions
- Harry Potter as the “Chosen One” to defeat Voldemort vs. Zelie’s destiny to bring magic back
- Hatred of wizards who aren’t “pure-blooded” vs. oppression of Magis
- A portal fantasy set at Hogwarts vs. escapist, visual world set at Orïsha
- Draco Malfoy being nothing more than his family’s pawn vs. Inan also chooses family loyalty and “duty” over anything else
If You’ve Struggled with Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Try Reading…
I do think if you’re able to read Frankenstein, you should because it was written by a female author considered to have penned the first science fiction novel. The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein is from the perspective of Victor Frankenstein’s wife. It highlights the limitations of a women living in 18th century Europe, especially for one who is in an abusive relationship. Both stories bring to question the meaning of what it is to be a monster (or to create one).
If You’ve Struggled with To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee, Try Reading…
And of course I couldn’t make this list without including, The Hate U Give. This book has taken the world by storm. It is so, so, so important. I definitely think this book should be read in favor of To Kill a Mockingbird, especially because the narrative centers around the white character and contributes to the “white savior” trope.
The Hate U Give is instantly better simply because it’s from the perspective of Starr Carter, a black teen girl. While she does witness one of her best friend’s death at the hand of a police officer, she’s not a “product” of her environment. She has family, friends, a school life. She cracks jokes and goes to prom. The Hate U Give truly gave “Black Lives Matter” a human element where normally Black people are constantly seen as only silent victims rather than a vessel for hope and change.
I also wanted to include these Adult Fiction alternatives to classics. To keep this post brief, I will use bullet points for comparisons.
If You Struggled with Lolita, Try Reading…
- Explores dynamics between a naive, teen girl and an adult teacher
- Themes of innocence, “Me Too”, victimhood, agency, and consent.
If You Struggled with 1984, Try Reading…
- Haunting, fantastical, and Orwellian
- Set in a dystopian Japan
- About a woman living under state surveillance where everything people remember disappear. If you still remember, YOU disappear.
If You Struggled with The Lord of The Rings, Try Reading…
- Feminist! LGBT! Diverse!
- A focus on matters in relation to the world (with LOTR, it was Middle Earth)
- Multiple quests and characters, a kingdom in chaos.