It couldn’t feel lucky to be the last person left to mourn your loved ones – Christina Henry.
Christina Henry loves to provide a dramatic retelling of the classic stories, which make us think twice of the Disney versions and the fairy tales that we have grown up with and loved. The Girl In Red reminds me a little of Carol Ann Duffy’s poem Little Red Cap – quite a lot actually, come to think of it. There are allusions to men disguised as wolves, who wouldn’t think twice about hurting a young girl in a red cloak, or a red coat. And, like the poem, Little Red Riding Hood can certainly fend for herself… except she is just called Red, and there is nothing small about her.
Red has a big personality. She is strong. Brazen. Smart – super smart even, with the tenacity and childishness of a teenager that has had to grow up far too quickly. She is feisty, calculated, obsessive about cleanliness and sickness. She is also an amputee, but she never lets that stop her, something that should be highly commended about in this book; Christina Henry writes about it as matter-of-fact, with no woe-is-me and zero glamour. She is the kind of person you want around if there just so happens to be an apocalypse…
This retelling of Little Red Riding Hood isn’t set in the pretty German woodlands where there are wolves with sharp teeth and black fur deep in the forest. It is a dystopian version, one where humanity is on the decline in one of four ways: 1. The Cough. 2. Survival. 3. Lack of morals. 4. An unknown factor. This version is the one where there is no woodcutter, no saviour and certainly no fairy tale ending: only a survival instinct and the sheer will to live, as well as luck. A lot of it in Red’s case.
Just like the fairy tale, there are three main elements: Red, the woods and Grandma’s house. Red must walk over one hundred miles through the dark, treacherous woods (full of monsters with guns and sick minds) in order to get her happily ever after; at least, a version of it.
For me, Red was a character that I neither loved or hated. I understand why people would warm to her and I understand why people would despise her. As I said before, she is strong and she is calculated – she has to be. She brushes off the fact that she has an amputated leg from the knee down, just as she is matter-of-fact about wanting to kill the bastards who murdered her parents in cold, racist blood. She is mixed-race and proud, just as she should be. I think this is the basis of why she is such a strong character. Her race and disability combined made her a target in the Southern US before the apocalypse; she is most certainly not about to let the rest of the world rally against her now. For that reason alone, you have to admire her even if you don’t necessarily like her.
The plot is another thing that didn’t sit well with me. Don’t get me wrong, I adore the element of The Cough, the apocalyptic world where humans turned to desperate animals, murdering in cold, ruthless blood, attempting to survive, and I love the element of a lone girl trekking through the woods to get to her little piece of sanctuary in a world that has turned to ash, rubble and death. Nevertheless, there is an aspect that does not sit well with me, and that is the thing that has been terrorising groups of humans, killing them without reason. What is worse is that when we come face to face with this monster, we don’t fully understand the who, the what, the how, or the why… and suddenly it is vanquished, the goodies saved and the book has ended in its neat little bow of happily-ever-after.
All in all, it was a good story of strength and survival with a badass main character, however the over-stretched elements and rushed narrative make it just that – good, not great.
Have you read The Girl in Red? What are your thoughts?
Love, Faye xo