Red: The True Story of Little Red Riding Hood

After reading Red, I'm debating whether or not if I should go back and read Rump, the first book in this loose not-a-trilogy-trilogy.  While I'm always up for another twisted fairy tale retelling, I rather expect them to be, well, interesting.  There was really only one subplot in Red that truly interested me; everything else felt humdrum and perfectly ordinary.

There is nothing wrong with Red; let me be clear about that.  I didn't notice any egregious errors or offensive language or anything that would be inappropriate for kids to read about.  On the other hand, Shurtliff tries to inject winky nods to various, more obscure fairy tales without explanation.  For an example of this being done brilliantly, run and grab Adam Gidwitz's A Tale Dark and Grimm sequence.  I think Shurtliff's audience is a bit younger, so these references felt a bit random and, in the end, unneeded.

Sitting here, trying to come up with things to say, I suppose I've figured out what it is I didn't particularly like about Red: I haven't anything to say about it.  It simply is.  It is words on pages bound together and covered with pretty artwork.  While it may seem as though many books make me angry, or at the very least, supremely irritated, I much prefer that (or the alternative of joyous adoration) to feeling nothing at all.

You know how oatmeal can be really gluey and boring unless you add fun toppings like cinnamon or cacao nibs or strawberries?  This porridge was neither too hot, too cold, nor just right.  It was a sad book porridge.

Our titular main character is the granddaughter of The Witch of the Woods, who often sits in her bed with a wolf costume on to ward off unwanted visitors.  When she's not playacting, Granny is concocting all sorts of potions and spells for denizens of The Forest (caps per the book).  Red's parents go on a a long trip, and send her to Grandmother's house for the duration.  As she makes her way through The Woods (honestly, I don't know if I'll remember to keep Capitalizing Everything, so there's that), she sees her Path ahead of her but doesn't stray, even when she sees a wolf.  I was a bit confused with this "Path" business: at first I assumed it was the path to get to Granny's house.  Later, the Path shimmers and fades, so it's obviously a magical construct.  I'm guessing it represents a person's life course, but it was rather oddly shoved into the story and not really clear for the kiddos who will be reading this.

Anyway, Red doesn't stray from the path, but she doesn't trust herself to do magic either, since her spells always go wrong.  When she gets to Granny's house, Grannyis sick.  Very sick.  And she's used up all of her healing potions on denizens of The Forest, and Red somehow feels as if she's to blame for this, since she refuses to do magic.  Anyway, this quickly escalates into an oh-no-grandma-is-dying-I-must-save-her-but-how situation, and Red strikes off to find a way to save her grandmother's life.  Almost immediately, she is beset by a small, blonde girl named Goldie who is extremely annoying to Red but who won't leave her side.  They travel together because this is a buddy story, I guess, and we also need to see how needlessly cruel Red can be.

After many adventures, Red and Goldie (now best of friends), face their final test: a horrendous Beast in an enchanted castle.  This is by far the highlight of the book.  I completely fell in love with Shurtliff's reimagining of the Beast and how the Beast came to be.  Oh, how I wish that this had been the entire book instead of Red and Goldie traipsing all over the land to find some sort of fountain of youth.

The ending was well done, if a bit schmaltzy.  It's much more realistic than a happily ever after, though, and for that I am grateful.

Obviously, I'm looking at this from an adult perspective, but I really do try and think of it as a child would while I'm reading.  It would be very easy to pick this one up without having read either Rump or Jack, the two previous books in this loose series.  Red only refers to Rump a few times, and not at all to Jack, since I assume they live in different parts of this magical landscape.  I do wonder whether kids would simply skip over the fairy tale references they don't know, or just accept them as something weird and move on.  Kids are good at rationalizing the weird.  But this is just an okay book, not a great book.  There's nothing particularly jaunty or unique about it.  I much, much preferred Diane Zahler's lovely (and delicious!) Baker's Magic as a juvenile fantasy novel.

Rating of Red?  Gallic Shrug.

I received a copy of this title from NetGalley.


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