Top Ten Tuesday (12): Top Ten Books That Would Be On Your Syllabus If You Taught “YA and the Western Canon 101”

August 24, 2015 Layla, Top Ten Tuesday 36

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme created by The Broke and the Bookish. This week, the theme is “Top Ten Books That Would Be On Your Syllabus If You Taught X 101” and we’re happy to be participating!


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I would like to make about a million of these (social justice & YA! LGBTQI literature!) but eventually settled on this topic, which is basically … novels from the Western literary canon and YA books that I think it’d be cool to teach with them and vice versa. Some of these are adaptations of canonical lit, others are loosely inspired by it, and others are just paired together because I want them to be.

The sort of guiding question that I had in mind for these pairings – because there are approximately a million adaptations in the world! – was how do these novels explore what it means to be human? (With secondary questions about what adaptation means for these books – both in the sense that some of them are adaptations  or at least loosely based on another novel – but also in thinking about adaptation as the process through which potentially human life gets created, as with Frankenstein’s monster.)


1. Frankenstein – Mary Shelley

2. Unwholly – Neal Shusterman

This is a thing I’ve actually taught! And it worked out really well, so yes, I would absolutely do it again. I taught Unwind after my class had read Frankenstein and The Handmaid’s Tale, and because many of them liked Unwind a bunch, some of them picked up Unwholly and told me it would have been a much better fit than Unwind because View Spoiler ». I still haven’t read Unwholly but I believe them. If you aren’t familiar with the Unwind series, it’s about a dystopian America, sometime after a war centered on reproductive rights, where teenagers can be retroactively aborted by their parents – a procedure referred to as “unwinding.”

3. The Island of Dr. Moreau – H.G. Wells

4. The Madman’s Daughter – Megan Shepherd

So, this one’s an adaptation. Shepherd’s book takes Doctor Moreau – a doctor! an island! experiments in animal-human hybridity! – and imagines what it would be like if Moreau had a daughter – Juliet – who was also scientifically minded, curious about her father’s work, and troubled by her own desires for similar knowledge. View Spoiler » I liked the first book, but could have used less of the love triangle and more of the crazy scientific experiments. But, cool fact, the second and third book are inspired by The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Frankenstein respectively.


5. Persuasion – Jane Austen 

6. For Darkness Shows the Stars – Diana Peterfreund

Diana Peterfreund’s adaptation of Persuasion is awesome – it’s one of the books that brought me back to reading YA, to be honest. If you haven’t read it, go read it – the sequel, Across a Star-Swept Sea, is equally great (cough cough, even better than the first!). Both books are set in the same world – one where science gone awry has destroyed the world’s population, oh noes! – but, interestingly to me at least, both worlds illustrate different responses to the same event. In FDStS, it sets off a revolution against technology – because science is why we can’t have nice things – and defines social classes by their relationship to technology (Luddites, who are anti-technology, and the Reduced, who as a result of the apocalyptic event, are for the most part left unable to speak and become an underclass). Books = super interesting. The second is incredibly fun.

7. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick

8. The Body Electric – Beth Revis

This was actually the first one I thought of, though I don’t actually know what I’d teach it with. In an ideal world, Janelle Monae’s studio album The Electric Lady because I think that’d be a really interesting pairing. But anyway. Here I’m using Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which I haven’t read. (But I have seen Blade Runner. ;) That counts, right?) Revis’s novel, which came out this past year, is a standalone about android life and personhood and what it means to be human. And fighting the man! A lot of that.

9. Twilight – Stephanie Meyer

10. Fledgling – Octavia Butler

I just think this would be fun, ok? Both are novels are vampires and were published around the same time but, obvs, they could not be more different. Twilight, you probably know of: sparkly vampires, Bella Swan, vampire babies biting their way out of your womb. Fledgling is a totally different account of vampire life and it thinks about otherness, queerness, & familial relationships  – and is very much worth the read.


So, what classes are you teaching, universe? and what we will be reading? and can I sit in? :)

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36 Responses to “Top Ten Tuesday (12): Top Ten Books That Would Be On Your Syllabus If You Taught “YA and the Western Canon 101””

  1. fishgirl182 @ nite lite

    I still need to read For Darkness Shows the Stars. I have only heard good things about it. I am terrible at making lists like this but I think you’ve picked some good stuff. Maybe Jessica Khoury’s Origin. It has a Frankenstein-ish feel.
    fishgirl182 @ nite lite recently posted…Red Queen Giveaway

  2. J. Oh

    Such a fun post, Layla! As a former teacher turned publishing intern, I had a blast with your explanations for what you chose, and think this would be such a fun thing to do with a class.

  3. JJ

    It makes me so happy when I see any of the Unwind series books on other people’s lists because it’s one of my favourite series!
    JJ recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday #19

  4. Tiffany

    So intrigued by your picks! And YES to the Janelle Monae detour. I actually think it would be really interesting to talk about her music/concept in that context, since she does reference that Philip K. Dick book even in her earlier albums & so much of what she represents and sings about is directly tied to contemporary social issues.

    I had the same struggle with this week’s TTT so I just decided I’d teach 3 different classes (the art of picture books, Asian Americans in literature, and a study in what it means to be human) and focus on just a couple books in each. It’s been so interesting to read these posts!
    Tiffany recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday: Bookplates for Brunch University

  5. Nikki

    I love this list! Generally I would say I would include anything by Philip K. Dick or Ray Bradbury. I also especially love that you included The Island of Dr. Moreau and it’s retelling, Madman’s Daughter. Honestly I’d probably put a lot of classics in there. Animal Farm, 1984, Picture of Dorian Grey, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde., etc. etc.

  6. Tiff @ Mostly YA Lit

    Layla, I am in your course like a boss (or a student…or whatever). You just mentioned, like, five things that I love, including Diana Peterfreund (seriously, why isn’t everyone else raving over Across a Star-Swept Sea like we do?), Janelle Monae (idea: pair it with the film Metropolis. My friends and I actually watched Metropolis with The Archandroid as the soundtrack and it was fantastic), pairings of classics with modern books, and the whole question of what it means to be human. I basically love you.

    Also, I think it would be great to do a pairing of Orlando with Everything by David Levithan and what it means to be just a soul in an ever-changing body.
    Tiff @ Mostly YA Lit recently posted…#TopTenTuesday: 11 Books On My (Imaginary) Gender in YA Syllabus!

    • Layla

      Haha, welcome to the course. I do seriously wonder what it would be like to teach all of these in real-time – probably not all that feasible! and I’d want to swap some of these books out for other media – but it’s fun to imagine so la la la, here I am off in fantasy-land.

      So, yeah. For Darkness Shows the Stars was great and I loved it (I love Persuasion and thought the novel was both faithful and creative as an adaptation, which is not the easiest feat to pull off) but Across a Star-Swept Sea was SO MUCH BETTER for me. I didn’t think it was possible but it WAS. Admittedly, a tiny part of it might be that I know nothing about the source text so I was probably able to just enjoy the novel without drawing parallels between Across a Star-Swept Sea/i> and The Scarlet Pimpernel, but. BUT. I think it’s also kind of great because Peterfreund totally complicates the world she’s set up in the first book and it’s super fascinating and there’s genderplay and swash-buckling, and, I don’t know, it just seemed like a more vibrant text to me.

      I HAVE NEVER DONE THAT. I WILL GO DO THAT. (I’ve never seen Metropolis! I know that I should and this sounds like a great way to do it. Did you just start them both at the same point and watch the magic unfold?

      I knew which Levithan you meant, no worries. Weirdly, my queer book club juuuust did that novel in June. And hmm, Orlando. That’s an interesting text to pair it with (and also ONE OF MY FAVORITE BOOKS OF ALL TIME yes all caps are necessary). Will need to think more on it. Thanks for the idea. :)
      Layla recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday (12): Top Ten Books That Would Be On Your Syllabus If You Taught “YA and the Western Canon 101”

  7. Alexa S.

    Oh! I have so, so much love for For Darkness Shows the Stars! It’s been ages since I first read it, but I still have the impression of it as stunning and clever in my mind. (Now I just want to reread it!)
    Alexa S. recently posted…Wildest Dreams – Robyn Carr

  8. Tenae | Strawberry Moon Books

    This is such an incredibly thoughtful and intriguing list! I adore adaptations and reimagining of classics so these all sound right up my alley. Although I love all the adapted classics on your list, I’m particularly drawn to the idea of teaching Twilight versus other vampire novels. That would result in such interesting discussions of what works and what doesn’t in vampire lore!

    (And your site is gorgeous, by the way – so glad I found you through Broke and Bookish!)
    Tenae | Strawberry Moon Books recently posted…Top Ten Books on My Fairytales 101 Syllabus

    • Layla

      Haha, thank you. Yeah, I think it’d be a fun group of books to read together! And yes, wouldn’t it be cool to teach Twilight in conjunction with other vampire novels? (Admittedly this might have been more effective a few years ago when college students were really into Twilight – I don’t know if that’s a thing anymore!) To both think about what works for certain readers and why, but also sort of where these different imaginings of vampires are coming from? And it’s cool too because both novels introduce you to broader vampire “families” and, I don’t know, I think it’d be super interesting to think about what different configurations of family or community they both present. La la la. Sorry, that got a bit rambley.

      Yay! I can’t take any credit for the site design, but I’m so glad that you found us! :) It’s one of the nice parts of TTT – getting to find other blogs I might not otherwise happen upon.
      Layla recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday (12): Top Ten Books That Would Be On Your Syllabus If You Taught “YA and the Western Canon 101”

  9. Shanti

    Um yes all the way to Diana Peterfreund. I read Unwind when I was twelve and it totally freaked me out, but I should give it another try, especially if the rest of the series is good. The body electric was also excellent. Though I haven’t read any of the classics sadly. But I will (sometime in the distant distant future.) I would love to do a fairytales through different perspectives- reading Grimm versions of Cinderella then Throne of glass and Cinder, or Crimson bound and Scarlett and Little Red Riding hood. But I would love it f myths from other places, like Maori myths and the book Hunter by joy cowely got involved too.
    Shanti recently posted…Shar and the Irate Librarian

    • Layla

      You should be freaked out! I’m still freaked out by Unwind – the actual scene of unwinding that we get in Book 1 is terrifying. I think a friend of mine who read it also flipped her shit and started screaming at her partner when she got to that part.

      Diana Peterfreund! Her writing is great. I love Across a Star-Swept Sea but my issue is that I haven’t read The Scarlet Pimpernel so I’m not sure how it works as an adaptation.

      A fairytales/mythology one would be super fun! And including non-Western mythologies is always an excellent choice.
      Layla recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday (12): Top Ten Books That Would Be On Your Syllabus If You Taught “YA and the Western Canon 101”

  10. Wendy

    Sign me up for your course! I love the Unwind dystology; there is so much food for thought and discussion in the whole series.

    I recently read I Am Her Revenge and didn’t realize until after I’d finished that it’s a modern take on Great Expectations from Estella’s POV. So there’s that.
    Wendy recently posted…TTT: British Mysteries 101

  11. Rachel Writes Things

    Great list. I LOVE For Darkness Shows the Stars and I’d dig taking a class where we study it against Persuasion. I wish I could take this class. Another book to add to the list would be studying Frankenstein alongside This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi Lee (which features Mary Shelley as a character and is about a boy who does underground work where he brings people/things back from the dead).
    Rachel Writes Things recently posted…Top Ten Books That Would Be On My Syllabus If I Taught Feminist YA 101