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I read an interesting article today by a literary agent about the importance of reading the canon. These are the books that “one must have read to be considered well-educated” in your genre or category.
Because she is an agent who represents books in the crime/thriller category, her top five books are:
The Mirror Crack’d by Agatha Christie
The Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan
The Key to Rebecca by Ken Follett
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
When the Sacred Ginmill Closes by Lawrence Block
She says the point isn’t to only pick five, but rather to “figure out what works in a novel that appeals to you for YEARS. A novel that you’d use to illustrate essential elements of a novel. … A novel that can be YOUR signpost for moving ahead.”
I thought it would be fun to try my hand at determining the canon for my category, which is YA fantasy romance, with an emphasis on fairy tale retellings:
Beauty by Robin McKinley
A strange imprisonment
Beauty has never liked her nickname. She is thin and awkward; it is her two sisters who are the beautiful ones. But what she lacks in looks, she can perhaps make up for in courage.
When her father comes home with the tale of an enchanted castle in the forest and the terrible promise he had to make to the Beast who lives there, Beauty knows she must go to the castle, a prisoner of her own free will. Her father protests that he will not let her go, but she answers, “Cannot a Beast be tamed?”
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (technically Middle Grade, not Young Adult, but still a classic)
At her birth, Ella of Frell receives a foolish fairy’s gift—the “gift” of obedience. Ella must obey any order, whether it’s to hop on one foot for a day and a half, or to chop off her own head! But strong-willed Ella does not accept her fate…
Against a bold backdrop of princes, ogres, giants, wicked stepsisters, and fairy godmothers, Ella goes on a quest to break the curse forever.
The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree, spends the first years of her life listening to her aunt’s stories and learning the language of the birds, especially the swans. As she grows up Ani develops the skills of animal speech, but is never comfortable speaking with people, so when her silver-tongued lady in waiting leads a mutiny during Ani’s journey to be married in a foreign land, Ani is helpless and cannot persuade anyone to help her. She becomes a goose girl and must use her own special, nearly magical powers to find her way to her true destiny.
East by Edith Pattou
Rose has always felt out of place in her family. So when an enormous white bear mysteriously shows up and asks her to come away with him, she readily agrees. The bear takes Rose to a distant castle, where each night she is confronted with a mystery. In solving that mystery, she finds love, discovers her purpose, and realizes her travels have only just begun. As fresh and original as only the best fantasy can be, East is a novel retelling of the classic tale “East of the Sun and West of the Moon.”
My Fair Godmother by Janette Rallison (and the subsequent books in the series about the unconventional Godmother)
After her boyfriend dumps her for her older sister, sophomore Savannah wishes she could find a true prince to take her to the prom. Enter Chrysanthemum Everstar: Savannah’s gum-chewing, cell phone-carrying, high heel-wearing Fair Godmother. Despite a few wish-granting mishaps, Savannah’s fairy-tale ending might not be as far off as she imagined.
I was reminded of a book I used to love that better fits this list of fairy-tale based stories, and so have added East to this list. I originally included Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith—which I still love—but it’s an original fantasy, not a fairy tale retelling.
What do you think? Do you agree with my list? Would you choose different books? If you have any to recommend, I’m all ears. If you haven’t read one of these… well, what are you waiting for? You need to get started ASAP!