8 Enchanting YA Fairy Tales to Feast on This Fall

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Anne Mai Yee Jansen


Anne Mai Yee Jansen is a literature and ethnic studies professor and a lifelong story addict. She exists on a steady diet of books and hot chocolate, with a heaping side of travel whenever possible. Originally hailing from the sun and sandstone of southern California, she currently resides with her partner, offspring, and feline companion in the sleepy mountains of western North Carolina.

As the autumnal magic of All Hallow’s Eve and el Día de los Muertos approaches, there’s nothing like an uncanny tale to get you feeling like a kid again. Or, as luck would have it, a whole list of YA fairy tales for your reading pleasure!

Whether your favorite fairy tale is 6,000 years old or only 600, the fact remains that these preternatural tales span centuries as well as cultures. Fascinatingly, the vast majority of fairy tales were passed down through the oral tradition until relatively recently.

There has been much speculation as to the purpose of fairy tales. In an essay on the roots of fairy tales such as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, Sarah Roller writes, “Originating in European folk stories, often designed to be parables with a moral twist, they featured painful punishments, sadistic parents, and children being devoured by wild beasts.”

Of course, that’s just one facet (the Brothers Grimm) of one tradition (European) of fairy tales. But the fact remains that fairy tales are often super dark and therefore astoundingly inappropriate for their typically-pint-sized audiences (which is, quite frankly, probably part of their allure). And then there’s the fact that the fairy tale is an ever-evolving beast.

Sure, folks like the Brothers Grimm did some work to fix some fairy tales in place through print technologies, but humans have been inventing stories of magical beings and monstrous creatures since time immemorial.

Luckily for us, the most wondrous of fairy tales are still being spun by talented storytellers. I’ve curated a list of some recent gems of YA fairy tales. Some of them are retellings of popular fairy tales from the way-back-when, while others offer enchanting otherworldly delights that are sure to join the ranks of their more established brethren in no time.

Forget “once upon a time” — snatch your favorite entrancing tale off the shelves (taking care not to prick your finger on a rogue splinter in your haste) and hunker down for a long, dark night full of stardust and mischief.

Skin of the Sea by Natasha Bowen book cover

Skin of the Sea by Natasha Bowen

Simidele is Mami Wata, a mermaid. She’s also struggling with memories of her life as a human, before she swam the ocean depths in search of souls to usher to safety. Given that Bowen’s novel blends Yoruba cosmologies, mermaid lore, and histories of the transatlantic slave trade, these souls belong to those who’ve lost their lives aboard enslavers’ ships crossing the Atlantic. And when Simidele breaks all the rules and saves a living boy, there must be consequences. This engrossing tale will have you dreaming of mermaids…and luckily for you, the sequel Soul of the Deep was released in September.

Blanca and Roja by Anna-Mare McLemore book cover

Blanca and Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore

“Everyone has their own way of telling our story.” Thus begins the story of Blanca and Roja, sisters whose fates are bound up in a desperate wish made long ago by a woman who wanted a daughter. After just a few short paragraphs, McLemore’s writing will have you absolutely captivated in this enchanting retelling of Swan Lake (with traces of Snow White). As with all good fairy tales, this story of family and love takes a turn when the magical destiny awaiting one of the sisters ensnares others and grows more dangerous as it changes.

Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron book cover

Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

Cinderella’s legacy is no happily-ever-after in Kalynn Bayron’s powerful retelling. Instead, two centuries later, an oppressively heteropatriarchal monarchy mandates that all teenage girls attend the Annual Ball so they can be married off. In a realm where domestic violence is rampant, this is bad enough. What’s worse is that Sophia’s attraction to women is a dangerous kind of desire in her world. When she flees the ball without her best friend and love interest, Erin, she finds herself at Cinderella’s tomb in the woods, where she meets Constance. As their love story burgeons, their plot to take down the monarchy comes with higher and higher stakes.

Lost in the Never Woods by Aiden Thomas book cover

Lost in the Never Woods by Aiden Thomas

Wendy Darling (yup, that Wendy Darling) lives in Oregon, and all is not well in her small community. When several kids go missing on Wendy’s 18th birthday, it dredges up the trauma of her own brothers’ disappearances just a few years earlier. So when a mysterious boy named (you guessed it) Peter Pan turns up asking her to help him find his shadow to prevent more disappearances, Wendy decides to see if she can find some answers for herself. Lost in the Never Woods is definitely one of the darker tales on this list because of its exploration of trauma and mental health — ironic that the inclusion of real-world challenges makes it more frightening than if it stayed solely in the realm of the fantastic.

Violet Made of Thorns by Gina Chen book cover

Violet Made of Thorns by Gina Chen

A mysterious prophecy, an emergency ball, and a kingdom on the brink of darkness lie at the heart of Gina Chen’s new novel. Violet is a Seer tasked with faking a prophecy about Prince Cyrus’ future bride. As if this wasn’t hard enough, the prince’s choice of mate was the subject of an unfinished prophecy uttered by another Seer on her deathbed — one that indicated the kingdom’s fate rested on his choice. It’s up to Violet to figure out how to save the kingdom, the prince, and herself in this fantastical fairy tale that will have you reading until the wee hours of the morning.

Hunted by Meagan Spooner book cover

Hunted by Meagan Spooner

This Beauty and the Beast retelling centers on Yeva, a strong young woman who would rather take aim at her prey than exchange pleasantries with the ladies at court. Because of this, she’s not terribly broken up about it when her family is forced to relocate on the edge of town, however unfortunate the circumstances. However, his sudden disappearance leads Yeva to track the Beast, tracing her father’s footsteps to the mysterious kingdom that readers will find simultaneously familiar and freshly rendered.

A Darkness at the Door by Intisar Khanani book cover

A Darkness at the Door by Intisar Khanani

The Dauntless Path trilogy began as a retelling of The Goose Girl. Interestingly, book 3, A Darkness at the Door (released this last summer) is set in the same storyworld but functions as a sequel to Book 2, The Theft of Sunlight. It reunites readers with Rae, who found self-acceptance in the previous volume, in spite of ableist mistreatment, in her quest for her best friend’s little sister who was taken by snatchers. Having been held captive on a snatcher’s ship, she ends up entangled with a dangerous Fae and joining forces with a thief to attempt to save the other stolen children. It’s a complex installment in Khanani’s powerful series.

Ash by Malinda Lo book cover

Ash by Malinda Lo

No list of fairy tale retellings would be complete without Malinda Lo’s Ash on it. Even though this book was first published in 2009, it’s a classic queer retelling of Cinderella. The novel follows the eponymous Ash as she attends the royal hunts (thanks to her somewhat terrifying and creepily powerful fairy godparent, Sidhean) behind her awful stepmother’s back. It doesn’t take long for her to fall for the king’s huntress, Kaisa — a bold woman who’s unlike anyone else Ash has ever known. As their relationship develops, Ash has to reckon with her past in order to proceed with her future.

Need More for a Readerly Happily-Ever-After?

That pesky magic mirror still telling you there’s something better for your bookshelf? I recommend this list of queer fairy tale retellings. If you’re not feeling the YA vibe, consider this list of adult fairy tales or these fairy tale books for children. In case you’re still hunting for a frog that’ll turn into the perfect book, here’s an extensive list of 100 fairy tale retellings for both adult and YA audiences.