The Comfort of A Familiar Story

How is it July already? 2024 sure is flying by!

I’ve been on quite a reading binge lately. Currently I’m re-reading a series of ten adult historical romances that are all connected. It’s part of my effort to go through my existing catalogue of books and decide which I’ll keep to read again and which ones will move to the donation pile. These I still enjoy after a decade, so they’re keepers!

Because I’m reading these books all in a row by the same author, I’ve noticed a number of patterns in them, but rather than find them repetitive, I find it comforting.

And it’s not just when I read a long series from the same author. Patterns happen with certain genres. Like, I might pick up a romance novel and recognize a familiar trope, like: Ooh, fake dating! (One of my favorites.) They’re sure it will never turn into anything real, but of course by the end they’ll get together.

Or, in a fantasy or dystopian: Okay, this character’s the chosen one. They’re destined to save this world. They’ll put together a crew of people to help them, but when it comes down to the final battle, only they can defeat the huge evil.

I’m a fan of tropes because I know what to expect. If I pick up a romance novel, I expect a happy ending. If I pick up a chosen one type novel, I expect the good guys to win. I’d also prefer for the chosen one to live (don’t get me started on one particular dystopian trilogy).

There’s another type of familiar story I especially enjoy–retellings. I recently picked up Jen Calonita’s 12 to 22, which is the author’s middle grade version of the movie 13 Going on 30, and it made me smile all the way through. Granted, that’s one of my favorite movies, but what struck me was how I anticipated certain plot points without knowing exactly how they would play out in this version. Because the story is familiar to me, I knew what was coming and was already cringing on behalf of the character, but she had no idea. That feeling creates a unique kind of tension as you read. Instead of “I have no idea what’s going to happen next,” it’s “I know what’s coming and I can’t wait to see how it plays out.”

As an author and reader, it’s a great reminder that there are different ways to experience this tension. I enjoy reading a book where I’m trying to figure out all the twists and turns, but I also enjoy the books where I’m in on the secret but don’t yet know how the characters will handle what’s coming. That second instance–the one of familiarity–is why I will read any Jane Austen or Shakespeare retelling I can find. I love new twists on those stories. But I also love finding twists on more modern stories that are already familiar. Bring on all the rom-com retellings in book form!

My takeaway is this: anticipating what’s coming doesn’t remove the tension. It just changes it to a different kind of tension. And you never know–the author might throw in a completely unexpected twist. Depending on how attached you are to the original material, you might love the new version or completely hate it. The beauty of it is, you can always go back to the original.

For me, personally, I’m going to care most if you take away the happy ending. But in general if it’s a retelling rather than an adaptation, all bets are kind of off anyway.

What are some of your favorite retellings? Bonus points for any rom-com retellings, YA or adult! Here are some I’ve loved over the past five years. A few of these authors might not have been going for an outright retelling, but the stories still give retelling vibes.

  • The House Swap by Yvette Clark (MG The Holiday + The Parent Trap)
  • When You Get the Chance by Emma Lord (YA Mamma Mia)
  • So Many Beginnings by Bethany C. Morrow (YA Little Women)
  • Love, Decoded (YA Emma) and A Taste for Love (YA Pride and Prejudice) by Jennifer Yen
  • Sense and Second-Degree Murder (YA Sense and Sensibility) and Pride and Premeditation (YA Pride and Prejudice) by Tirzah Price
  • This Might Get Awkward (YA While You Were Sleeping) and One Way or Another (YA Sliding Doors) by Kara McDowell
  • Where the Rhythm Takes You by Sarah Dass (YA Persuasion)
  • Shipped by Meredith Tate (YA You’ve Got Mail)
  • A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer (YA Beauty and the Beast)
  • Hood by Jenny Elder Moke (YA Robin Hood)
  • Midsummer’s Mayhem by Rajani LaRocca (MG A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
  • The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand (YA A Christmas Carol)
  • Twisted fairy tales by Jen Calonita and other authors (YA versions of Disney movies changing central plot points)

My July newsletter is out today! I will definitely be doing subscriber-only giveaways in the next couple months, so make sure you sign up to be included.

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