Title: Red Hood
Author: Elana K. Arnold
Publication date: 25th February 2020
My rating: ★★☆☆☆
Goodreads rating: 3.56
Genre: YA, fantasy, retelling
I received an arc of this book from the publishers Balzer + Bray in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by receiving a gifted copy of this book in any way. I would like to thank the publishers Balzer + Bray, and the author, Elana K. Arnold.
*Trigger Warnings – Blood, attempted rape, sexual assault, murder, death, domestic violence, graphic sex, drug use. There’s quite a few trigger warnings for this book so please be aware of this before reading.*
You are alone in the woods, seen only by the unblinking yellow moon. Your hands are empty. You are nearly naked.
And the wolf is angry.
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.
Overall opinion of the book:
Red Hood is an interesting retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. While I enjoyed it overall, there were some things I wasn’t overly keen on. The writing itself was fantastic. Arnold is brilliant at creating atmosphere and world building. I was instantly sucked into the story and felt engaged with it and the characters. The story as a whole is such a clever take on the classic fairytale and Arnold is a talented writer. I loved the references back to the original fairytale throughout, I think this is my favourite part of retellings. In Red Hood one of the chapters is called “the better to eat you”. This is clever. Arnold is great at world building, creating complex characters and not shying away from difficult topics. The story itself is quite dark and Arnold is great at creating an eerie and suspenseful atmosphere.
Interestingly, Red Hood is written in second person. I’ve not read many books in this format and I thought it was the perfect fit for the book. Though it takes a little getting used to to begin with, it allows the reader to feel a part of the story. It invites readers to see themselves in the characters and situations that occur. I don’t know if I’m reading too much into it here, but I think this was divisive. As this is a feminist retelling and I think Arnold wanted female readers to feel empowered by the story and see a part of themselves in Bisou.
There are a lot of references to periods and period blood in Red Hood. I’m not one to shy away from something that’s completely natural and I agree that periods and period blood should be talked about more openly in books. However, I felt there were times where it was a little overkill and unnecessarily graphic. I understand that periods and blood is pivotal to the plot, but there were many times where the references felt repetitive, unnecessary, and too graphic in my opinion. The way in which periods link up to the hunting of wolves was particularly interesting and I understand Arnold wanting to emphasise this, but this could have been done perhaps in a less visual way.
I particularly loved the female friendships in Red Hood and Bisous’s relationship with her grandmother. Both were fantastic and my favourite parts of the novel. The friendships felt natural and I liked the strong female empowerment they brought. The grandmother was easily my favourite character. She was supportive, loving and absolutely badass. She fiercely protects Bisou and is a fantastic role model. Her backstory was particularly interesting too and I liked how Bisou and her Grandmother’s story link up. I thought the ending of the book was great and tied up all of the loose ends in Bisou’s past brilliantly.
As this is a Little Red Riding Hood retelling, naturally there is wolf and a hunter.
*Slight spoilers here*
Bisou is the hunter and men are seen as the wolves. She goes on to kill wolves each month. While I can see the purpose of this linking to the fairytale, is killing people who have done things wrong completely necessary? Does this really bring out the justice that the women who have suffered rightfully deserve? Does it actually deal with the problem of rape culture and toxic masculinity, or does it cause it to continue because the root of the problem isn’t being publicly challenged? I understand this is a retelling, but I would have liked to have seen the wolves caught and forced to confront their own toxic masculinity and face up to the consequences of what they have done.
This was such an interesting concept and covers rape culture and men with animalistic tendencies. It was poignant and emphasises how rape culture is such a big problem in the world at the moment and there are many wolves hiding in sheep’s clothing. Although I did like this take on the original fairytale, it felt as though the book was incriminating all men at times. Yes, men’s behaviour towards their treatment of women needs to be challenged, but let’s not paint all men with the same brush. Not all men are wolves and this is important to note. The book does discuss this a little with Bisou’s boyfriend and her grandfather, but I do feel as though not enough emphasis is put on this. Also, there can be women who are predators too, but the book doesn’t mention this, it’s very much a women vs men rhetoric. While this does emphasise a feminist standpoint, feminism should also be about equality, rather than hating on all men.
Overall, I thought Red Hood was an interesting take on Little Red Riding Hood and it kept me hooked and entertained throughout. Arnold is a great writer and I enjoyed her writing style. I know her books deliberately are quite difficult to read in the sense that they confront readers with real and tough topics. I applaud her for doing this. While I did enjoy the basis of this retelling as a whole, there were parts of the story I wasn’t as fond of and did impact how I enjoyed the book overall.
If you’re a fan of feminist fairytale retellings, Red Hood is the book for you. Please be aware that there are a lot of trigger warnings before delving into this book and some content that’s perhaps more difficult to read. However, Arnold discusses them well and although I don’t agree with all of the rhetoric portrayed in the book, it does send an important message and I did enjoy the book as a whole.
The writing and characters were brilliant and I loved the female empowerment seen in Bisou, her grandmother and her two friends. Red Hood deals with toxic masculinity, tackling this head on and the importance feminism. While I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I hoped, please don’t let this put you off. I think I have perhaps overanalysed some of the content, but I feel that some of the things discussed in Red Hood could have been handled in a slightly different way.
If you would like to purchase this book, you can do so here:
Have you read Red Hood? What were your thoughts on it? I’d love to know, let me know in the comments below! 🙂
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