I was conflicted about The Girl in Red. On the one hand, I’d read (and reviewed) Christina Henry’s work before, and knew her to be an excellent writer; on the other, the idea of a “Red Riding-hood” themed novel seemed a recipe for silly cliché. As it turns out, The Girl in Red is hard-core dystopian science fiction.
Red, a young lady of mixed-race with a partial-prosthetic leg, is thrown into a post-apocalyptic world that is less like a fairytale and more like something dark and real that you might expect from Cormac McCarthy or Kazuo Ishiguro. Her mother named her Cordelia, but her father called her Red because of her penchant for red hoodies. The name fits because Red is inclined to action, has the attitude to drive her through hardships, and can “see red” when fueled by outrage. We find out in the very first scene that Red carries a hatchet and isn’t shy about using it.
Red’s world is the aftermath of a deadly virus that has reduced society, and her family, to a scattered few survivors. Like the fairytale, she is trying to reach grandmother’s house in the woods, but in this case it’s because the isolated home is likely untouched by the human-carried disease. The disease is frightening because it is ruthlessly effective, but the ruthless remnants of the human race are the real wolf in this story. She travels through the woods to avoid these human nightmares, who will seem all too real to all but the most innocent of readers. But the human remnants aren’t the only terrors here, the biological disaster that ruined the world reveals further horrors as the story progresses.
Christina Henry does an excellent job of developing Red as the story progresses. Red’s inclination to action drives the action up front, but this would soon seem one dimensional if that’s all there was to this protagonist. But we find out little by little of Red’s struggles between love and anger for her lost family, the anger mostly due to a perception that they might have been saved had they only listened to her advice, yet even this attitude evolves along with the story. By the end it is impossible not to care deeply for Red and suffer along with her.
I’m posting this prior to the 18 June release date thanks to an ARC provided by Berkley Publishing. If you want a story that starts with a quirky tie-in, carries you along with a fast moving plot, and leads you to love the protagonist, then The Girl in Red is a novel you shouldn’t miss.