Red Hood

Red Hood by Elana K. Arnold

First Lines: Once upon a time, just hours ago, the doorbell rang. You were ready–lipstick on, hairpins in. His dear face smiled as you opened the door for him, his bright dark eyes, his wide sweet mouth, and small diamonds twinkling from both pierced ears.

I saw this book at the library and knew it had been on my to-read shelf. Even though I didn’t really remember at the time what the book was about, I knew I wanted to read it. I actually grabbed it really fast because I was so excited to be reading “new” books.

With this one, since it’s short, I’m going to copy the official book jacket: Since her grandmother became her caretaker when she was four years old, Bisou Martel has lived a quiet life in a little house in Seattle. She’s kept mostly to herself. She’s been good. But then comes the night of homecoming, when she finds herself running for her life over roots and between trees, a fury of claws and teeth behind her. A wolf attacks. Bisou fights back. A new moon rises. And with it, questions. About the blood in Bisou’s past and on her hands as she stumbles home. About broken boys and vicious wolves. About girls lost in the woods—frightened, but not alone.

Strap in, folks, because we’re about to go for a ride here.

First of all, I want to just make it abundantly clear that I read the whole book, cover to cover. Thought about quitting by the time I got to the end of chapter 3, but I kept going. It’s like when you see a wreck and you can’t quite look away. It was actually so bad it was funny.

Ok, so the review. The writing for this is terrible. It’s clunky and unnatural and a struggle to read it out loud without feeling like an idiot. (I read snippets of this out loud to my boyfriend because I was just so incredulous. He laughed the whole time.) If you doubt me, go take a look at those first lines again. There’s just something off about the writing. It’s also written in second person (i.e. “You pick up the jacket.”), which is really odd. I’ve read short stories written in 2nd, but never whole novels–and I majored in English in school. This is incredibly rare–and for good reason. There was a huge learning curve to get into the story because obviously I am not Bisou no matter how much you say “you.” I did get to a point–finally–where I could mostly ignore it and it didn’t interfere with the story, but that was a long time coming.

This is, single-handedly, the most explicit YA novel I’ve ever read. For real, I’ve read many romances novels less explicit than this. Bisou is 16 and honestly, I definitely would not have been prepared to read this book at that age. The book has incredibly explicit sex scenes for YA, and it also has a huge focus on menstruation. Waaaaay too many details involved in that for my tastes. (Some people are applauding this book for not ignoring the fact that girls do, in fact, have periods as part of normal life and I get that, but the details…they were very descriptive about inserting tampons and other things. I just…did not need that to be the focus of the book.)

The whole angle of the story seems, to me, to be that nearly every man you run into is a predator. That was the theme I walked away with. And like, sure, I’ve been listening to a lot of true crime podcasts lately and I have walked through campus with my keys in my hands and all that, but I feel like this story took it to an extreme. Especially because the answer to “what do we do with these predators?” is “kill them.” And that doesn’t seem right either. Two wrongs don’t make a right. I am not exaggerating about that being the theme. That is quite literally what they do with every man who becomes a predator: they kill him.

This book tries so hard to be this like, feminist manifesto. It basically tried to check all the boxes, even though it often didn’t help the story in any way. We have: 1) talk of periods, 2) empowering consensual sex, 3) multiple girls harassed by boys who don’t understand “no”, 4) girls who fight back, 5) girls overcoming predators, 6) police who don’t listen to girls, 7) toxic masculinity, and 8) incels. Yes, incels. That was not something I thought I’d be talking about in this, but here we are.

Look, I understand a lot of this is part of the female experience. Been there, done that. (I’ve been listening to too much true crime lately and am now convinced I will be kidnapped every time I leave the house, but that’s another story.) But again, not all of it really helped the plot in any way. The whole incel thing made me laugh because it was so random. The words “toxic masculinity” are thrown in there like once just to say them, I think? The plot never really went anywhere with either of those two points. And again, I think it tried too hard and went too far. I don’t think the right response to harassment is to upgrade it to murder.

This was just such a weird book. I basically kept reading it because at a certain point, it became incredibly amusing to see what happened next. It is certainly not a book I will be recommending to my students.

One thought on “Red Hood

  1. “It was actually so bad it was funny.” I wasn’t expecting that! I saw the cover, I read the blurb, and I prepared to add it to my tbr.. then your review. Needless to say, I won’t be reading this one, thank you for your honesty!
    This review was so great, wonderful job!

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