Book Review

Red by Kait Nolan

B+

Title: Red
Author: Kait Nolan
Publication Info: Kait Nolan 2011
ISBN: ASIN: B005HB8PN
Genre: Young Adult

The shows Whenever I read a first person YA novel, I feel like I need to state in the review that it is first person, and the narrators are telling the story to the reader in each chapter directly. I know that drives some people bananas, though it doesn’t bother me. But be ye aware: this is first person narration from the hero and heroine’s point of view.

Awareness aside: Holy, holy crap, I really enjoyed this book.

Plot summary ahoy! Elodie Rose has just moved to town, and is keeping a big ol’ secret. She’s on the cusp of turning into a wolf, which means, according to her family history and all the evidence she has at hand, she’s going to go absolutely nuts and kill everyone in her path, including her father. She’s cursed. She and her father are doing everything they can think of to delay that violent change, so Elodie lives a live of near seclusion. They moved to a new town, they changed their names, and her father chose a place near a huge park so that if they have to run they can head into the forest and leave no trail. Elodie’s father and Elodie herself are highly-trained search and rescue team members, and have exceptional survival skills in the wilderness.

Sawyer is the son of a researcher who has come to town to study the integration of a wolf pack in the forest. Elodie was so enticed by the opportunity to be a research assistant for the summer, she lied to her father about her job, and when her new internship brings her into near-daily contact with Sawyer, she’s unsettled and furious with herself for deviating from her father’s very careful plans to keep her safe.

The way in which the story reflects back on itself, on the Red Riding Hood mythology, on the ideas of coming of age and of innocence gave me a lot to think about since I read this book, and while I was reading it, too. There were times when the allegory was heavy handed. For example, there’s a whole explanation from Elodie about the original red riding hood myth, and how it’s come to be a story about virtue and virginity and resisting sexual temptation. But the origin of the myth in Elodie’s world rests with her ancestors, female werewolves who were frequently tempted or mated to human men. Each of the women in her family tree were werewolves. It was a curse afflicting only women, and the change to wolfyness manifests at puberty – exactly at the same time as reproductive maturity.

So even though Elodie tries to separate the mythological meaning and the myth itself, this story also operates as an allegory for virtue and temptation: Elodie’s mother left a note that was delivered to her dad when she turned 13 that detailed how Elodie was going to change, and that any contact with males would accelerate that change. Right. Hormones. Got it.  Any contact with males would turn her into a scampering ho, only substitute “werewolf” for scampering ho.

The time Elodie spends in the woods (a very neat parallel, especially since at one point they hunt for a cabin in those woods) (no grandma, though, sorry) with Sawyer both adheres to and subverts the messages of virtue in the fable. Elodie thinks she has to resist Sawyer, because any contact, particularly sexual contact, with males can trigger her werewolf, change her in to an animal with no control over instincts and urges.

In other words: Oh. I see what she did there.

But conversely, Sawyer suspects she is different, possibly like him, and isn’t sure how to approach the subject without revealing too much about himself. It’s not just a statement that hornypants are ok and girls and boys both have them. Sawyer knows she is different, she is unique, and she is like him, and he can’t figure out how because what he should recognize about her isn’t present. And once he figures things out, he isn’t sure he should be the one to tell her the truth.

Again: see what she did there?

I really enjoy werewolf stories because I think they explore anger and lust and rage, and the consequences of allowing extreme behavior in humans and potentially excusing it by tying it to a bestial entity coexisting in the body of what appears to be a human. In this book, like many others, the characters talk about their wolves as a being in their bodies that they have to control, and Elodie’s struggle with control and fear of losing control and then hurting or killing someone is part of the tension that supports the story. Her struggle with a growing and powerful and passionate side of herself is something that scares her deeply, and she’s been taught to fear that part of herself from many trusted people.

Again again: see what she did there?

The switching narration, with alternating chapters narrated by Sawyer and Elodie, worked for me because I had a very clear understanding of what was motivating each character, and why they were struggling with themselves and their attraction. It wasn’t a book wherein too much was revealed by the narrator. They didn’t know everything and want to tell the reader all about it. There was enough of a mystery surrounding the characters that I wanted to know what was going to happen – and I liked the glimpse into how each character thought. Their voices are distinct enough that I could tell the difference between them without the chapter headings giving me a heads up (heh) as to which person was narrating.

Elodie’s character was amazing. She tries as much as possible to Not Stand Out, to be anonymous, easily overlooked and invisible. She wears muted colors, she goes from home to school and back again, and her father exercises tight control over her life to keep her “safe.” The assumption is easily made by other people in the town that her dad is overprotective of her – but it’s not because he fears other people. I think it’s more because he fears his daughter and what will happen if she changes due to the influence of other people.

Picturing Elodie hiding in plain sight, making herself invisible and trying to suppress what makes her extraordinary is a feeling I remember from high school, when many people didn’t want to stand out or be noticed for the wrong reasons. Yet Elodie’s entirely normal feelings are for an entirely different reason, and the use of the werewolf side of her forcing her to grow up and own herself made her struggle to be unnoticed and unbothered seem all the more real.

What. The. Hell. Am. I. Doing?

I was half numb with shock as I unlocked the door and headed for the kitchen to start something for supper. This was stupid .I was acting like a normal girl with a normal crush on a cute guy. It wasn’t just stupid, it was dangerous. Both to him and to me. It wouldn’t matter if he was a hulking giant of a guy if I wolfed out. Strength was nothing against razor sharp teeth.

I’d spent the last four years of my life doing everything in my power to avoid that eventuality. And here Sawyer comes and wrecks my “all high school boys are morons and assholes” rule to live by in just over twenty-four hours, such that I’d gone an accepted a ride to work and was looking forward to it.

She’s trying to deny who she is so she won’t be noticed, and she’s trying to deny herself what she wants so she won’t be tempted. Sure, no problem.

I had a lot of empathy for Elodie. I also had empathy for the parents in this story, who are basically good people who are worried about their kids for valid reasons. There are scenes that are the werewolf teenager version of “I’m not worried about you in the car. I’m worried about all the other drivers in their cars.” Only instead of cars it’s other things that are dangerous to wolfish teens. The parallels and mirroring of real and common emotions for parents and teenagers is smart and very engaging.

My only problem was the degree to which it was easier for Elodie to accept Sawyer and the possibility of their relationship than it was for her to accept herself. Her acceptance of their relationship seemed too easy and convenient after all the emotional struggle of the preceding chapters, and that ease and sometimes cloying nature of their time together made their relationship less satisfying after all the OH NO I SHOULDN’T build-up.

The limited cast of characters made it rather easy to pinpoint who the villainous ones were, but the fact that the characters realized after I did didn’t bother me. I never thought they were stupid – which can be a problem with first person narration, especially at times of emotional and distraught perspective. Even though I knew before they did, the fact that I guessed first didn’t lower my opinion of any of the protagonists, and their narration, while scared and stressed, didn’t make me think, “COME ON NOW AND I MEAN IT.”

So why a B+? I was so absorbed in this book while reading it, I couldn’t stay away and I wanted to check out of everything I was doing so I could go finish it. I think of this as “glue” and have referenced in other reviews when a book is “sticky.” This book is quite sticky. Be ye warned. But the heavy-handed didactic passages of allegory and really obvious parallel, especially the parts about nature and suppression of nature, hit me over the head with the giant spoon of plot infodump: HERE. HAVE AN ENORMOUS SERVING OF WHAT THIS SCENE REALLY MEANS. Plus the fact that Elodie and Sawyer accept their fierce attraction to one another with only a little drama seemed convenient while Elodie was struggling throughout most of the book to accept herself meant the drama didn’t balance.

But even though those parts annoyed me, I was fascinated by this book. The storytelling and the layers of meaning and the multiple ways to view what was happening in the story made this incredibly fun to read, and I have recommended it several times to people already. I think that part of what draws readers to YA and YA romance is that emotions are overwhelming and scary, even if you’re an adult, and that feeling of being overpowered by your emotions coupled with the secrecy of teenage life makes for some compelling reading. In this particular case, both of those elements are present and strong in the story, and when combined with allegory and a recasting of a well-known myth, it’s delicious.


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Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    snarkhunter says:

    I am intrigued! But I must resist buying it for ye olde kindle, b/c seriously I have bought three books this week that I haven’t had a chance to read. And that’s on top of the books I bought when Borders was closing. And the ones I got for free that I need to read before I teach them next semester. I am surrounded by books I don’t have time to read.

    It’s a sickness.

    It’s my werewolf problem. Must. resist.

    (Normally I detest werewolf novels. This one intrigues me b/c it’s Red Riding Hood but the GIRL is the wolf. Heavy-handedness aside, it’s about damn time.)

  2. 2
    Overquoted says:

    You really ought to read Benighted by Kit Whitfield. I still consider it one of the best werewolf books I’ve ever read. And I can’t explain it without giving away the whole point of the story. X)

  3. 3

    Sounds good. Will have to pick it up and give it a read when I get some free time. Overquoted—I’ll pick up benighted by kit whitfield too.

  4. 4

    I don’t mind first person if they say “I walked along and I saw. . . ”  It’s when it says “I am walking along and I see. . . ” it seems annoying.

  5. 5
    Kait Nolan says:

    Oh my goodness!  Thank you so much for the review!  :dies happy now:

  6. 6
    Jan Breitman says:

    Benighted is truly awesome. It keeps coming back to haunt me from time to time. Will have to try Red.

  7. 7
    DreadPirateRachel says:

    This sounds awesome. I love retellings of fairy tales, especially when things go a little darker than the Disney versions. I’ve been loving Grimm and Once Upon a Time. I’ll have to check out Red when this term is over and I actually have time to read something other than ancient Nordic sagas and Victorian horror novels.

  8. 8
    Sarah says:

    Oh, I really like the sound of this one, but I can’t get past the cover—the same as the ‘Under Her Skin’ collection with Jeaniene Frost and Illona Andrews :D

  9. 9
    Vanessa Jaye says:

    Awesome review. Just downloaded this on my phone. Also plan to pick up (or order) Benighted.

  10. 10
    Kait Nolan says:

    @sarah (Saz101) Welcome to the world of stock photos.  Everybody’s using them as elements in covers these days.  I did not know until a year after I’d paid for the cover design that another book had the same model for the heroine.  Sadly this sort of thing happens quite a bit among self published and legacy published work.  I’d love to start a campaign among photographers to take more non-cheesy shots of people to use as heroes and heroines.  It would give us a bigger pool to choose from.

  11. 11
    zinemama says:

    I’m reading The Last Werewolf right now. I have never read a werewolf book and to be honest, I don’t think I will ever want to read another. (Though I did enjoy this review.)

  12. 12
    Lisa Kessler says:

    This sounds like a fabulous book!!!

    I’m adding it to my TBR list on Goodreads…

    Thanks for the great review!

    Lisa

  13. 13

    @Kait: I actually like yours more, anyway :)
    I’m sorry, I should know better—I work in graphic design and spend hours looking at stock photos every day.

  14. 14
    SusanL says:

    Kindle makes it WAY too easy to shop in the middle of the night :D

    The first YA werewolf I remember reading was Blood and Choloclate by Annette Curtis Klause.  In fact, that’s the only one that comes to mind.  Twilight doesn’t count.

  15. 15
    SB Sarah says:

    I think there’s a definite lack in stock photography sources for troubled looking young women with imperfect hair, and shirtless men WITHOUT chest stubble. The same images, because they are so good, get used repeatedly!

  16. 16
    Lisa says:

    Virginia, I know what you mean about First Person Present Tense narration. I find it totally pretentious and annoying in adult fiction, but somehow it’s perfectly acceptable to me in YA literature. It’s actually pretty common in YA literature, and since that’s the bulk of what I read, I suppose it’s just worn me down. I think that it works in YA books because the stories – whatever the plot – are about coming of age and self-discovery, and the present tense provides a sense of immediacy that keeps you right in the narrator’s head as he/she is learning and growing.

    There’s an adult book that came out this year, The Weird Sisters, that’s told in first person plural (we love to read, our parents are older, etc), and lemme tell you, *that* took some getting used to.

  17. 17
    Bryn Thenell says:

    @zinemama: “The Last Werewolf” isn’t typical of most werewolf stories.  Glen Duncan tends to focus on the, ahem, more raunchy aspects of life.  While I loved the books intensity it wouldn’t be my first recommendation to someone exploring the genre.  Try the “Alpha and Omega” series by Patricia Briggs, I just love them.  They are about characters from her Mercy Thompson books, also wonderful werewolf stories.

  18. 18
    Kait Nolan says:

    @Lisa What?  It was like the royal “we”?  Wow that would be annoying!  I’m not a fan of present tense in ANY genre.  There’s a reason stories are traditionally told in past tense, and I’ve yet to see anyone do present where it didn’t feel unnatural and clunky.

  19. 19
    Lisa says:

    It’s not exactly a royal “we,” where you have one king or queen referring to himself or herself in the plural. The narrators are the three sisters all together. It’s tough in the beginning to get used to because “we” is used constantly, whether all three are speaking at once or the older two are speaking about the youngest sister, or the oldest and youngest about the middle sister, etc. Which characters are making up the “we” at any given time changes constantly. It’s kind of a Greek chorus effect. The whole thing is riddled with Shakespearean references, both blatant and subtle, so why not another aspect of theater?

    The Weird Sisters was flawed, but all in all it was a good read – family relationships, love of reading/books, a bit of romance here and there, and everyone got an HEA.

  20. 20

    I’m weeping as I read this.  I love a happy ending in a book, but in real life it’s truly extraordinary.

  21. 21
    James Lynch says:

    My favorite run-in with stock photography happened in 2009.  I was walking through the mall when I noticed one of those here-for-a-few-weeks beauty product stalls had a big photo that was also used on the 2nd edition cover of the Juliet Hastings Black Lace erotic novel WHITE ROSE ENSNARED.  Hah!  Sadly, I was far too polite to go up to the person working and tell them, “Did you know your booth has the same picture as a mid-1990 erotic novel heavy on medieval bondage?”

    (And if you do a Google Images search under “White Rose Ensnared” you’ll see the picture I took in the mall, along with the actual cover!)

  22. 22
    Susan/DC says:

    This reminds me a little bit of the 1942 version of the movie “Cat People”.  As described in imdb.com:  “An American man marries a Serbian immigrant who fears that she will turn into the cat person of her homeland’s fables if they are intimate together.”  I thought the movie was fun and scary; it’s in black-and-white and has marvelously atmospheric shots in an underground pool and elsewhere. You feel sorry for the heroine, who does not know for sure but is afraid, both for herself and her husband, if the tales are true.

  23. 23

    There was a remake with Nastassia(sp) Kinski and I believe she did and she did. But in New Orleans I think.  Those tiny Balkan countries are so rich in history and myth.  I just started a book by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro that is part of a vampire series and this particular volume is located in that area.  Kind of rough going for me given my current state of mind but so interesting.

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