Review: The Girl in Red
I have a thing for constancy. When I drive somewhere I usually take the same route. When I’m feeling down, I like to hit the used book store. Things I do on a regular basis are safe and known quantities. But I also have a thing for new stuff. Surfing YouTube for new music. Trying out some new kind of food. I may or may not really like to find new breakfast cereals, despite the fact that I know pretty much anything else would be better for me in the mornings. When it comes to books and stories, I also like to see new things. All the sequels that Disney puts out frequently annoy me. Although it seems as if Pixar can do no wrong. So when I come across a story that is a “re-telling of a classic fairy tale”, I’ll typically pass. For whatever reason, the third time I picked this book up off my EBR-TBR shelf, I decided that I’d read it. Must have been my “constancy” having a surge of strength that day or something. Whatever. I picked this one up, and boy am I glad that I did.
THE GIRL IN RED (Amazon) is a not-so-typical retelling of the classic fairly tale… you guessed it: Little Red Riding Hood. I’d never read Christina Henry before, but I think that’s going to need to change. She’s putting out some awesomeness for us here, and I can’t help but be impressed by her storytelling skills.
Cordelia is her name, but “Red” is who she is. She’s a 20 year-old half-black girl with one prosthetic leg and some serious survival skills. Her world has just taken a turn for the worse and civilization has all but disappeared. Her story toggles back and forth between “After” and “Before”. The story starts late in the game, with Red defending herself against a would-be attacker: a mangy, middle-aged white guy with no skills. Unlucky for him, Red owns a short-arm axe, and she knows how to use it. After this introduction, which was a great way to start things off, the other half of the story kicks in, beginning with her, her older brother Adam, and her parents, as they’re coming to the realization that more people are dying than they’d at first thought. LOTS more people.
A sickness has hit the world. It starts as a cough — mild and mundane — but develops into a frequently bloody and graphic demise. Doesn’t take very long for those that catch it to die, and the percentage of the population that is immune is turning out to be very small indeed. With so many dying, looting and burning soon become commonplace, and if you’re not associated with some type of armed forces, it’s a case of might makes right. And those with the might (guns) aren’t necessarily always the most civilized of our society.
It was super easy to fall into this prose and just get lost. It’s descriptive and emotive and atmospheric, and I loved every minute of it. Not flowery for the sake of it, which I very much appreciated. Red’s character comes out very strong and pointed. From her first introduction and subsequent attack, to her eventual arrival at Grandma’s house, you know who she is and where she’s going. There was strength and drive and focus that made her an easy heroine to root for. If I have one criticism of Red’s character, it’s that she seemed almost unphased at times by the violence and gore that surrounds her. This is a 20 year-old girl, after all, and the horror that her life has become is truly overpowering. Perhaps she lost something along the way. I wouldn’t blame her, if she had. But still, there were times when I expected a bit more emotion and reaction from her during times of stress and violence, especially during the “Before” phase of the story. Before she’d killed her first “wolf”.
Red’s drive to make it to her Grandma’s house always kept the story moving in the right direction, and so the pacing seemed almost easy to keep up. Additional to this, the author did a really great job of introducing concepts and then providing answers as she bounced between the two timelines. The one stumble with this surrounded the mystery around where Adam went, as her brother starts the journey with her, but is decidedly missing in the “After” timeline. There are multiple instances of “don’t think about Adam”, which as a plot device just bothers me to no end. They’re a typical brother and sister, fighting and arguing and throwing vitriol at each other, so his disappearance could be anything from something benign like him running off into the forest to the obvious obvious option of getting picked off by someone’s gun. I have to go back to my basics from Hitchcock here and say that suspense comes from knowing, and suspense is always better than surprise. More information in this instance, could have made for better impact, and definitely better story.
THE GIRL IN RED is about Red, a 20 year-old young woman, sliding into a post-apocalyptic world and only wanting to make it to her Grandma's house. SO GOOD.
Last, something that I think a interesting point of conversation. A not-insignificant portion of the story develops the fiction of the killer virus, and this plot point is never fully resolved. I read a lot of reviews on Amazon where people were bothered by this fact, which I think is a bit humorous. This is a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood after all, and the whole point of that story is getting Little Red Riding Hood to her Grandma’s house and dealing with the wolf, and the author hits those two point straight between the eyes. Everything else is extraneous, yeah? I think if this had just been another post-apocalyptic story about a young girl navigating the crumbling world around her, ignoring the resolution of the virus likely would have bothered me more. A lot more. But not this time. This story, I felt, although somewhat rushed at the end, completed a solid landing that left me fully satisfied.
So, even though I’m not generally one that would pick up such a book as this, I can whole-heartedly suggest you pick it up now. Totally worth the read, and I’ll absolutely be looking for more from this author in the future.
- Recommended Age: 16+
- Language: Infrequent and varied, but strong
- Violence: Pretty bloody and gory with violent human interactions
- Sex: Implied threat of rape