I absolutely love makeover stories. Maybe it’s the 80s/90s kid in me, but the idea of the underdog getting a makeover and then falling in love appeals on a very fundamental level. Of course, the best part of the makeover trope is when the underdog (and those around them) realize they had that magic in them all along and didn’t even need to change in the first place!
Here, in no particular order, are some juicy and wonderfully riveting makeover stories you can sink your teeth into.
Ash by Malinda Lo
Ash is one of those special books that grabs you from page one and doesn’t let go. This lesbian fantasy retelling of Cinderella follows Ash, who has recently lost her father and is at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. She believes she’s meant for Sidhean, a dark fairy, but meets Kaisa, a huntress, whom she falls for instead.
Although not as obvious a makeover story as some of the others on this list, Ash is about finding what you’re meant for in this world, while realizing that you had what it took all along. In effect, it embodies my favorite theme of makeover stories: You don’t have to change who you are to find happiness; you just have to unearth your true self.
Not “just” a fairy tale retelling, Ash manages to be an excellent exploration of both a young woman’s grief and the exploration of her identity. An eerie tale with a love story at its heart, this one’s for anyone who loves their young adult fiction queer and feminist.
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
Who hasn’t heard of Uglies by Scott Westerfeld? In spite of the immense popularity of the series, I absolutely had to include it because no “makeover stories” list is complete without mention of this fresh YA dystopian novel.
In case you’re not in the know, Uglies is set in a world where all sixteen-year-olds have to undergo surgery to be turned into one of the Pretties, conventionally attractive and therefore acceptable to society at large. Tally, our protagonist, is excited to be turned into one of the Pretties… until she meets Shay, a fellow Ugly who tells her about a group of rebels who live outside of town and refuse to be turned into Pretties. And with that revelation, everything Tally thought she wanted comes crashing around her.
It’s a pulse pounding read and an especially good pick for reluctant readers or those new to the SFF genre!
Extreme Makeover by Dan Wells
A satirical action-oriented science fiction novel, Extreme Makeover kept me turning pages because I literally could not predict what was coming next. This is the perfect novel for fans of sci-fi who like their novels a little lower on the sci and higher on the fi (like yours truly).
In this twisted universe, a beauty company named NewYew has just discovered that their latest line of lotion has a terrible side effect: It overwrites users’ DNA and turns them into clones of someone else. Sounds horrific, right? Well, NewYew thinks it’s going to catapult their company into the stratosphere. But the US government thinks it might make for a killer (pun intended) war weapon.
I don’t want to give too much away, but here’s what I will say: Since the movie is already in the works, I wouldn’t wait any longer to get your hands on a copy of this gem.
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
I was one of the last people in the universe to not realize that the movie of the same name was based on a book. As an author, I am deeply ashamed of that fact. However! As soon as I learned of my ignorance, I ran to the library to rectify it. And I’m so thrilled to say that I wasn’t disappointed; this is one of those unique circumstances where the book only enhanced an already amazing movie and vice versa (as opposed to the movie being a disappointing reimagining of the book).
Howl’s Moving Castle is about Sophie, who’s transformed into an old lady, thanks to a curse by the horrid Witch of the Waste. To break the curse, Sophie must befriend a curmudgeonly wizard named Howl, who lives in a moving castle. Sophie moves into his castle and, using her wits and pure heart, manages to win Howl over, thus breaking the curse. And, of course, along the way, Sophie learns there’s so much more to Howl and her than she’d originally thought.
What I really love about this story is that, in a way, both Sophie and Howl are transformed in the course of the book. Therefore, you really get a two-for-the-price-of-one makeover story!
“The Frog Prince” by the Brothers Grimm
I had to include this classic fairy tale because, in my opinion, it doesn’t get nearly enough love. Although I’m a huge, huge fan of Disney’s take on it (have you watched The Princess and the Frog? No? What are you waiting for??), I’d love to see more contemporary writers take on this fairy tale and make it something special.
The idea of a male makeover story—wherein the hero is the one who wants to be transformed—is extremely appealing to me. So often, we see women and female-presenting characters held to an idealized standard of beauty, thus wanting to change their appearance to achieve an end goal (usually romantic love). But ironically enough, men aren’t exempt from this capitalist and patriarchal ideal either.
I attempt to tackle this topic in my own fairy tale retelling of The Frog Prince, titled Of Princes and Promises (Rosetta Academy #3) out on June 8th! If you enjoy makeover stories, especially those of the gender-bent variety, I hope you’ll check it out!
Sandhya Menon is the New York Times bestselling author of When Dimple Met Rishi, Of Curses and Kisses, and many other novels that also feature lots of kissing, girl power, and swoony boys. Her books have been included in several cool places, including the Today show, Teen Vogue, NPR, BuzzFeed, and Seventeen. A full-time dog servant and part-time writer, she makes her home in the foggy mountains of Colorado. Visit her online at her website.