The Girl in Red by Christina Henry is a post-apocalyptic survival adventure inspired by the classic fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood. The story follows Red – a twenty something mixed raced, bisexual with a prosthetic leg – as she must literally travel through the woods to her grandmother’s house. The narrative jumps between the time before and after The Crisis, in which a virus called the Cough has caused wide-spread death and the collapse of modern society. As Red treks through the woods she is confronted with the military trying to regain control, evil people taking advantage of the chaos, and even some sort of creepy creatures.
First off, I absolutely love post-apocalyptic narratives. I usually find that they are complex, frightening, and an interesting critique on modern society. But something about The Girl in Red just didn’t work for me. I was intrigued by the portrayal of the deterioration of society as the Cough begins to spread. BUT I hated the parallel monster story line that totally detracted from the more interesting elements of the book. Henry creates a compelling statement that humans are the “wolves” to be afraid of but totally contradicts herself by adding *spoiler* chest-bursting monsters!
I also struggled with Red as a character. She likes movies so she always knows exactly what to do as society crumbles and how to survive in the wilderness? I just didn’t buy it! Also, the effort to make Red unique and strong felt contrived. I will always champion diverse characters in books but Henry’s reference to Red’s physical disability, race, and sexuality felt gimmicky instead of empowering. I will say it is great that Red is a clever, brave, and strong female character that can defend herself and isn’t afraid to do what she needs to do to survive.
I think ultimately a major problem with The Girl in Red is the source material it is based on. Little Red Riding Hood just does not have substantive enough storylines, characters, or morals. I totally understand the desire to retell the story with a bad-ass Red Riding Hood, but it just didn’t work as the foundation of an entire novel. The references to the original fairy tale – red hoodie, ax, wolves, grandma’s house – felt forced and almost added on in order to fit into the Henry’s style (she has written other retellings of classic stories like Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan, though I have not read those books).
When I read the synopsis of The Girl in Red I was intrigued though I’ll be honest that a retelling of a classic fairy tale is not the type of book I would typically gravitate towards. Though the book was not for me, it is important to push ourselves to read outside of our typical reading bubble. All that said, I did find the story a fast paced and chilling read.
SIDE NOTE: If you are looking for absolutely fabulous post-apocalyptic books you must read Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel and The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
** Berkley Publishing Group provided me a copy of the book for honest review
- Title: The Girl in Red
- Author: Christina Henry
- Published: June 18, 2019 (Berkley)
- Genre: Fantasy, Retellings
- Booky Nooky Rating: * *