Classic Connections, one of my favorite units in my book , involves modern young adult authors retelling a classic story in a modern setting or using elements of a classic in a modern tale. Recently, I have read three YA novels that incorporate the myth of Persephone and Hades in the story. In the Greek myth Persephone, daughter of the Greek gods Zeus and Demeter, is abducted by Hades, the god of the underworld. Demeter is distraught and convinces Zeus to intervene. Zeus says that Persephone may return to earth if she has not eaten anything, but Hades woos her with a six seeds of a pomegranate. A compromise is reached in which Persephone spends 6 months a year with Hades and 6 months on earth. Demeter refuses to let plant life grow during the 6 months Persephone is gone, thus explaining the seasons. Meg Cabot's Abandon, Aimee Carter's The Goddess Test, and Emily Whitman's Radiant Darkness, all involve the myth of Persephone.
In Meg Cabot's Abandon, the first book in a proposed trilogy, Pierce and her mother have moved to Isla Huesos in South Florida after Pierce nearly drowns in a swimming pool. Due to the pool’s frigid temperature, she is resuscitated, but not before she makes a trip to the Underworld and meets John, who doesn't want to let her go. In Isla Huesos, which happens to be a portal to the Underworld, she reconnects with her mother's family and starts school, but John seems to be monitoring her every move. She tells him to leave her alone and returns a necklace that he gave her while she was in the Underworld. But does she really mean it? The sequel, entitled Underworld, will be published in summer 2012.
The Goddess Test introduces Kate Winters, whose main interest is spending time with her dying mother, who has convinced her to move to her home town of Eden, Michigan. Kate meets several teenagers at school and agrees to attend a party with Ava, to please her mother who wants Kate to make a life for herself without her. When Ava has a fatal accident, the mysterious Henry appears and agrees to save her if Kate will spend each autumn and winter with him at Eden Manor. Kate ultimately finds out Henry is actually the god of the Underworld, and he wants her to take the place of his ex-wife Persephone. Kate must pass seven tests in order to become Queen of the Underworld. Eleven girls before her have died trying and if she fails, Henry will fade from existence. At first Kate is furious but as she begins to fall for Henry, she realizes becoming his wife will not only save him, but herself as well.
My favorite is Emily Whitman's Radiant Darkness, which is a more faithful retelling of the original myth. This story finds Persephone a willing accomplice in her abduction by Hades. Persephone is the bored teenage daughter of Demeter, the earth goddess who rules an all female realm. When Hades appears in a secluded meadow and begins to woo Persephone, she is more than willing to elope with him. In the Underworld Persephone spends her time gardening and working on the greeting process for the newly arrived dead. However Demeter is furious about the supposed abduction of her daughter and is causing drought and famine on earth. When Persephone discovers the trouble she's caused, she convinces Hades and Demeter to compromise and allow her to spend six months on earth and six months in the Underworld.
Popular novels with classic connections can be paired with the originals for comparison. Exposing kids to plots that form the backbone of literature will help them appreciate the clever variations that the modern authors imagine. Next up on my list of must reads is Falling for Hamlet by Michelle Ray.