The first word I thought of to describe ‘Red Hood’ is outstanding. It holds a potent message of female empowerment and gives us a whole new image of ‘Little Red Hiding Rood,’ and it’s coated in so much blood it feels like a murder-mystery. If just that makes you uncomfortable or woozy, you probably won’t be able to handle all the intense themes and topics* that author Elana K. Arnold weaves into this hypnotic coming-of-age tale. But if you love a brave story where cruel realities meet bold fantasy and aren't afraid to enter the woods, you should definitely proceed.
There are countless stories where women and girls are at the mercy of men, of predators, where they are abused and assaulted, and it takes a lot for retribution to happen. Sometimes it never does. They are stories that mirror reality and they are hard to read and hear because they are too familiar to many of us.
'Red Hood' flips that story on its tail, with Bisou discovering her birthright when she gets her first period at the light of the full moon on Homecoming night; she suddenly has the otherworldly power to fight and kill the predators she can now sense in the dark Seattle woods. Bisou can sense when the wolves, these broken boys, are attacking their prey, and she is compelled by her own past, her bloodline, to protect and save these young women, these girls, and go on the hunt.
With a story loaded with an emotional hot-button issue like sexual assault (and revenge-killing) in a social climate where the #MeToo movement is on everyone's radar, this book is sure to catch the attention of a lot of readers. And it will be the reason some have to stay away; that's fine, we know our limits.
There will be discussion over whether 'killing the wolf' (and whether an 'eye for an eye') is justified. But I liken this kind of justice to that of other vigilantes out there in our fantasy worlds, our superheroes, Batman, Arrow, Hawkeye. I have to wonder if this kind of vengeance is called into question further because it's a woman carrying it out and because of the connection to sex. And no, I don't think we have to answer how the 'boy became the wolf' because that's a whole other story, and not for Bisou's tale. We don't always have to answer where the evil comes from to know that we have to get rid of it.
I struggled to write this review, as I often have when a book really blows me away. I’d been lost for words since I read it, but thought about it a lot, and had somewhat pointlessly ‘written’ a review in my mind several times. I just want others to feel the way I did when I read it, clinging to every word.
Last year, it was ‘The Grace Year’ by Kim Liggett that did the same thing for me. Both books portray women finding their place, their truth, and their power, albeit through very different stories and means, but both left me feeling that women can change their circumstances, they can be emboldened and empowered, and that they are ENOUGH. 'Red Hood' is magical and profound. It's also an intimate tale of one girl's discovery of her tragic past and her personal power. And as I said, it's outstanding.
*Aside from sexual assault, murder, revenge-killing and rape, some themes and topics raised: sexual intercourse (including loss of virginity, and teen sex), drug and alcohol use, menstruation, abuse, bullying, suicide, self-harm, stalking, toxic masculinity, harassment.