Fairy tales can be pretty gnarly. I recently picked up a new translation of Grimm but I haven’t read it yet. For some time I’d been aware of Christina Henry’s The Girl in Red. As soon as I discovered it I wanted to read it. The BISAC code says it’s science fiction but I’d call it horror. More than that, I’d say it is the most tense book I’ve read in years. Henry knows how to keep readers on edge. Yes, it’s a take off from Little Red Riding Hood, but in a way that I wasn’t anticipating. Red is a strong, believable protagonist who finds herself in a pandemic-ravaged world (imagined before Covid-19) where she has to get to her isolated grandmother’s house. Everything between will surprise, scare, and stun.
The writing carries you along. A government with secrets, the ever-present threat of roving groups of bandits and militias who are always on the lookout for girls, and the uncertainty of how this will all end make for a powerful tale of what people are capable of. And not necessarily for good. Making Red “disabled,” and black, Henry has given us a protagonist we need. And it’s always a delight when a character finds that watching horror movies has been good training for a world where order has broken down into a Trumpian anarchy. Scary and witty, the story has so much to like it’s difficult to know where to start beyond the recommendation to read it.
Those who analyze literature sometimes say that the great story-lines have already been taken and that the best modern writers can do is to adapt them. There may be an element of truth to that, but even if there isn’t the clever retelling of old tales can be quite enjoyable. This isn’t so much a retelling as a reimagining. It’s also a poignant reminder that when things start to break down—or even in the status quo—women are put at risk. Men too quickly resort to guns and violence. As the story unfolds it becomes clear that Red is capable of surviving in this world, even when at a disadvantage. There’s also no overcoming of the military. It’s too well established and too heavily armed. Red’s run-ins with them allow her to impress those who assume white male superiority. In that way this is a parable within a fairy tale in a modern guise. I’ll be reading more of Christina Henry’s books.