Young adult reimaginings of “Cinderella,” “Peter Pan,” and “Robin Hood” have been done, all within the past year. Marissa Meyer’s “Cinder” turned poor Cinderella into a cyborg; Jodi Lynn Anderson’s “Tiger Lily” gave voice to a more silent member of the Neverland gang; and A.C. Gaughen’s “Scarlet” transformed Robin Hood’s Will Scarlet into a woman who winds up falling for the legendary thief. Say what you want about authors riffing on old material, but these reboots are good reads. They’ve certainly sold well.
And that’s probably why we’ll see a fresh crop of new takes on old stories in 2013, starting with April Lindner, who’s turned Emily Brontë’s classic “Wuthering Heights” into the angst-ridden tragedy, “Catherine.” In 2010, Lindner recreated “Jane Eyre” as a story about a young woman who falls for a rock star. Her “Catherine” has a similar vibe, with a punk-era heroine who falls for the brooding Hence, a musician with whom she has an intense (and doomed) romance.
The book is told in two voices and toggles between two decades and the stories of Catherine, then a love-struck high school senior whose father owns a famous New York music club, and Catherine’s daughter, Chelsea, a modern-day 17-year-old living in Marblehead, of all places, who travels to New York to investigate the disappearance of her mother, who has been absent since Chelsea was a very young child.
“Catherine” is a quick read, and Lindner astutely allows her setting to be as important as it is in the original. The “Wuthering Heights’’ manor is replaced by a CBGB-esque rock club called The Underground, which becomes the center of the narrative, for better and worse. It’s seedy, dangerous, and loud, but we don’t want to leave.
“The music was jittery, full of jagged edges — not my usual taste, but catchy,” Chelsea tells us on a visit to the club, now owned by Hence. “From the edge of the room I could watch the bassist joke around with the rhythm guitarist, and take in every emotion on the lead singer’s face; I could even catch his eye from time to time. Did my mother get to do this when she was my age? And how had she not missed living above The Underground after she married my dad and moved to suburbia?”
The thing about Lindner’s “Catherine” — and one could also say this about Stephenie Meyer’s third “Twilight” book, which also pays homage to “Wuthering Heights” — is that the novel on which it’s based involves a collection of selfish, impulsive characters who would drive you crazy in real life. YA readers might find themselves wanting to shake Hence, Catherine, and even Catherine’s perceptive daughter Chelsea, but they should remember that Brontë is the puppet-master here.
If anything, Lindner manages to turn the revenge tale into a far more endearing story about the parallel lives of mothers and daughters. Her heroines’ voices are engaging and appropriately similar, reminding readers that mom-types and their friends were young once, too.
Megan Shepherd offers up a more ambitious take on an old story with “The Madman’s Daughter,” inspired by H.G. Wells’s “The Island of Dr. Moreau.”
Her novel is set in Wells’s 19th century with characters from his novel, but told from the perspective of Juliet, Dr. Moreau’s daughter, who falls into poverty after her disgraced father disappears and her mother dies. Troubled Juliet has heard legends about her dad, but is he really such a monster? Did he practice vivisection on animals? (Spoiler: Yes.)
Juliet’s daddy issues bring her to the island in question, where she attempts to get to the bottom of her father’s weird, unholy experiments. That storyline, however, is trumped by Shepherd’s somewhat obligatory YA love triangle; the beautiful Juliet must choose between her father’s assistant, Montgomery, and the mysterious Edward, who appears to be the most well-adjusted of the bunch, but probably isn’t. (He’s on Vivisection Island, after all.)
“The Madman’s Daughter” falls into romance novel territory at times, with sexy corset talk and frantic kissing scenes. “He pressed his lips into my palm, my knuckles, each of my fingertips, drowning me with a thousand waves of pleasure,” Juliet says. “He murmured my name. The sound of it on his lips, so aching, choked me with passion.” The make-out stuff is far less interesting than the mystery of Juliet’s role in her father’s grand plan.
The novel could also benefit from a more thoughtful look at some of the poor vivisected inhabitants of the world of Dr. Moreau, but that could be coming. Like many new YA books, “The Madman’s Daughter” is already set up to be a trilogy.