Monday, October 31, 2011

Marian Librarian Reviews Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce

So I was going to save this conversation for when I took a month or two to talk about Fairy Tales, but today is Halloween and I look like this:

And now this song is stuck in my head:

So we're talking about Red Riding Hood today.

In her collection of short stories, Cloaked in Red, Vivian Vande Velde talks about how Red Riding Hood is a truly bizarre little story about a girl named after clothing going into wolf-infested woods at her mother's behest, talks to a wolf, gives him all the information about where she's going, and then is saved by a deus ex machina-like woodsman.  She wonders why we are fascinated a story with unmemorable characters, forgettable setting, terrible plot, and indeterminable themes.  Then she writes eight short stories surrounding the tale.

Of course, I wish that she might have ended her brilliant introduction with why she was so drawn to such a "terrible" story to write it 8 times over.

I have to say, in previous years I would have never thought of Red Riding Hood as a viable costume because she's really a terrible heroine who sort of blunders head first into danger and has to be rescued.

Then I read Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce.

This is a modern-day, twisted fairy tale.  A wolf attacks a grandmother and the two little girls she's raising.  The eldest defends the younger sister and loses an eye in the attack.  Afterwards they commit their lives to fighting wolves (who are more like we would consider werewolves).

What follows is a really wonderful story of two sisters, one driven to the point of fanaticism (Scarlet), the other desperate to fulfill her life's debt to her older sister (Rosie), even if it costs all of her wants and dreams.

These girls aren't Buffy; they have no superpowers.  In one review they said these heroines were "real enough to bleed."  I definitely agree.  They're vulnerable yet strong and came out of fights worse for wear.  They're excellent reimaginings of Red Riding Hood, who was ultimately just a girl who talked at length to a stranger.

As much as I loved the March Sisters as characters, the book has flaws.  The plot "twists" can be seen miles away, the monsters are just that: Monsters.  Their motivation?  They're awful monsters.  I give it some leeway on this because the main character's are so compelling and fairy tales tend to go for the black and white.  I just felt these issues were keeping this book from crossing from good to great.  Still, we need more strong heroines in all literature and this book gives us two wearing that fantastic red cape.

This book came into some controversy because of a passage where Scarlet, a victim herself, narrates about how the pretty girls she's watching to see they won't be attacked by wolves are inviting trouble without even knowing it.  Some took that as the same as blaming a rape victim, and because of that thought it was removed from a list of 100 YA books for Young Feminists.  Mind you, there is no rape in this book at all.  Just a victim narrating about how she perceives a group of girls as making themselves victims.

Here is an example of taking what a character says to be what the author is saying.  Scarlet is a victim dealing with trauma, of course she's projecting.  It's interesting because characters, male and female, have been thinking terrible things ever since pen was put to page, yet Scarlett is punished because her thoughts aren't feminist enough.  I bet my thoughts aren't feminist enough either, Scarlett, but we do try don't we?

So now I'm dressed up like Red Riding Hood trying to articulate why she endures.

I think she's stuck around for the same reason that 50% of Lifetime movies are about stalkers and we're obsessed with true crime stories.  Red Riding Hood is a victim, the wolf is a serial killer, and the woodsman saved her at the last second.  Or maybe there's something to the imagery of a girl in red standing out in a lush forest of green, being watched from the shadows.

But even better is Pearce's Red, or Reds in this case, Scarlet and Rosie, who are ready to bite back.

Happy Halloween!

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