Review: Sisters Red

Sisters Red
Jackson Pearce
Little, Brown and Company

Sisters Red is a retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood story. As children, two sisters, the aptly named Scarlett and Rosie, were attacked by a Fenris – a man who turns into a wolf – at their grandmother’s cottage. In an effort to protect her sister, Scarlett lost an eye fighting the Fenris and is now covered in scars. Now, seven years later, the two sisters and their woodsman friend Silas are hunters who make it their mission to hunt the Fenris who prey on unsuspecting young women.  Scarlett and Rosie share an intense bond, but will it be broken by Rosie’s growing feelings for Silas?

At first I found this update on a classic tale intriguing. The story alternates chapters between Scarlett’s and Rosie’s point of view, so the reader understands the motivations of each character. Unfortunately, as I continued reading, I began to get bored. A large portion of the novel consists of a series of hunts, some of which are important to the plot but many of which I could have done without. It doesn’t help matters that I guessed the major plot twist early on and so was not surprised to see I was right. I also found the relationship between Rosie, who is 16, and Silas, who is 21, somewhat disturbing. I had to keep reminding myself that Rosie and Scarlett, 18, are teenagers because they seemed much older, but in reality Rosie is still a child. I was also confused as to why Rosie and Scarlett were always wearing cloaks. Yes, it ties in to the Red Riding Hood theme, but who really wears cloaks? Finally, Rosie, Scarlett, and Silas use various knives and hatchets to fight the Fenris, having to stab them repeatedly in order to kill them. Pearce never really explains why they don’t simply use guns. Do guns not work on Fenris?

I do think Pearce does an excellent job of illustrating the tension between the two sisters. Scarlett and Rosie are both compelling characters in their own right and I sympathized with both of them. I didn’t love Sisters Red but I will still check out Pearce’s next book, Sweetly, a retelling of Hansel and Gretel due out in August.


Review: Cracked Up To Be

Cracked Up To Be
Courtney Summers
St. Martin’s Griffin

I’ve been meaning to read more Canadian YA, since most of what I’ve been reading is American. I’ve wanted to read Courtney Summers’s novel Cracked Up To Be, which was nominated for the White Pine Award, for a while, and I am glad I did. The novel’s heroine, Parker Fadley, used to be perfect: she was captain of the cheerleading squad, dated the most popular guy at school, and got good grades. But one fateful night turns Parker’s life upside down. Now, she’s showing up at school drunk, failing her classes, and pushing everyone who cares about her away. All she wants is to be left alone, but new guy Jake won’t back down so easily, forcing her to face what happened that night.

This book is definitely a page-turner. Summers uses flashbacks to slowly reveal the events leading up to Parker’s breakdown, keeping the reader in suspense. Parker isn’t the most likeable character, but she’s not supposed to be. Her prickliness is part of her attempts to push others away because she feels she doesn’t deserve her perfect life anymore. The reader does get glimpses here and there of her wish to be loved, accepted…normal. Summers’s writing is sharp and her characters edgy and realistic. I look forward to reading her other novels.

Got a secret, can you keep it…

I recently made a book talk podcast for a course I am taking on Internet broadcasting. I chose Sara Shepard’s popular Pretty Little Liars series because season two the TV show just premiered last week. The podcast is aimed at fans of Shepard’s novels who are looking for something similar to read. The books I suggest are Kiss Me, Kill Me by Lauren Henderson, The Secret Rites of Social Butterflies by Lizabeth Zindel, and The Debs by Susan McBride. The song playing in the background is the show’s theme song, Secret by The Pierces. You can listen to the podcast here.

The Dark Side of YA

There has been a lot of controversy lately regarding Young Adult (YA) literature and what some consider its dark undertones. A recent article by Meghan Cox Gurdon in the Wall Street Journal caused a stir among authors, publishers, and librarians for condemning YA books featuring themes such as sexual abuse and self-harm. The following paragraph stood out to me:

“If books show us the world, teen fiction can be like a hall of fun-house mirrors, constantly reflecting back hideously distorted portrayals of what life is. There are of course exceptions, but a careless young reader—or one who seeks out depravity—will find himself surrounded by images not of joy or beauty but of damage, brutality and losses of the most horrendous kinds.”

I don’t agree that these books are “hideously distorted portrayals” of real life. The unfortunate reality is that for many teens, these things are all too real. I also take offense to the idea that someone who reads these books is “seek[ing] out depravity.” Teens reading these books are not “depraved,” but rather are looking for confirmation that they are not alone, that others are going through the same things they are. Or maybe they have a friend going through a difficult time and don’t know how to help. Or maybe they have never experienced these issues and they are curious. All are valid reasons for picking up a book.

Gurdon goes on to argue that “it is also possible—indeed, likely—that books focusing on pathologies help normalize them and, in the case of self-harm, may even spread their plausibility and likelihood to young people who might otherwise never have imagined such extreme measures.” I wonder whether Gurdon has actually read any of these books. I recently finished Cut by Patricia McCormick, and I can honestly say there is nothing in here that would drive impressionable teens to cut themselves. Yes, the book is about a girl, Callie, who is in therapy because she cuts herself. But self-harm is not glamourized in any way, and in fact the book is about Callie’s coming to terms with the incident that caused her to begin cutting herself. If anything, the novel affirms that hope is out there.

Perhaps more disturbing than Gurdon’s article is one by author Ru Freeman on the Huffington Post in which she agrees with Gurdon. Freeman compares giving teens books about anorexia to “giv[ing] a young anorexic girl a great ball-by-ball account of how to starve herself to death.” I think it a gross insult to teens’ intelligence to assume that just because someone reads a book he or she will imitate the characters’ behaviour. Teens may be impressionable but they also have judgement. I doubt reading a book about anorexia will cause a teen to develop an eating disorder any more than the millions of adults who read books featuring murder would become murderers. I have yet to find a book that shows anorexia in a desirable light, as a thing to aspire to.

Freeman also writes “I can assure you that, growing up, I did not sit around wishing I could read about the hardships I was undergoing.” That’s great, but that doesn’t mean no one else wants to read about characters they identify with. Freeman is at her most presumptuous when she states “Here’s to all those adults who, having undertaken to have children of their own, choose to care for all children.” Thanks, but when I have children, I’ll decide how to raise them just as you did for yours. And I for one will not blindly assume I can protect my teenage children from the evils of the world by censoring what they choose to read. The world is not made of sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns, and while I agree that young children do not need to be exposed to the dark side of life and I understand parents wishing to preserve their children’s innocence as long as possible, if you think teenagers don’t know about rape, drug abuse, or self-harm, you are seriously deluding yourself.  The fact of the matter is teens are referred to as young adults for a reason. You can’t protect them forever, and while I would never suggest forcing any type of literature on your children I also think there comes a time when you should let them choose for themselves. And if a teen happens to choose one of these “dark” books he or she shouldn’t be judged for it, especially when the book in question may be providing a much-needed lifeline.  YA saves, whether the Gurdons and Freemans of the world like it or not.