Sit yourself down because I am about to introduce to one hell of a book! Red Hood by Elana K. Arnold does not mess around, my friends. If you love books with girls aggressively tackling the patriarchy system, this might be your next read! Read on, my friends!
RED HOOD BY ELANA K. ARNOLD
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.
Trigger Warning: bullying, sexual harassment, assault, violence & murder, substance abuse, underage drinking, sex, physical abuse
I was first introduced to Elana K. Arnold through her book, Damsel which I instantly loved. Her twisted and empowering take on old fairytales makes for a gratifying read. Red Hood is a very loose retelling of Little Red Riding Hood driven by female empowerment and sisterhood. To say that it is bloody would be an understatement.
Bisou Martel has lived a quiet life with her grandmother; she’s an introvert who loves her boyfriend, enjoys her grandmother’s company, and is just a homebody. On the night of her school’s Homecoming, Bisou and her boyfriend drive to a nearby woods to have sex. However, during the moment, Bisou gets her period. So, Bisou did what every girl would do. Mortified, she runs away into the woods. It is then that she finds herself being chased by something vicious and hungry. Although afraid, Bisou knew she would not be able to outrun the wolf. So, the girl faces the wolf, claws against wit. Driven by fear and survival, Bisou breaks the wolf’s neck. Thinking she is safe, Bisou goes home and tries to put the ordeal out of her mind.
But the next day, there is news of a naked boy found dead in the woods with a broken neck.
Bisou learns from her grandmother that her menstruation gives her the ability to sniff out the wolves and the strength to kill them with her bare hands. Personally, I enjoyed when Bisou got the wolf; when the men were eliminated and the women saved. The power that comes with being able to hunt down those who hurt women, who wouldn’t love that narrative?
The dreamy, hazy narrative makes for a good story. I lost myself in Bisou’s rage and need to do something. Red Hood explored how toxic masculinity affects women – shaming women for their sexual nature and the men’s assumption of owning a body’s body. She also writes scenes wherein the characters are conflicted about speaking up against their aggressors or speaking to protect other women. I believe this is something we do go through where we are afraid to say something because we want to protect ourselves. The book shows us the power of sisterhood – how when we act together, when we look out for each other, speak up for each other, we empower ourselves and others. I love the nature of sisterhood and female friendships that the author presented us with.
Although the fantasy setting of the book is about the link between menstruation and men becoming wolves, we never really find out how menstruation came to be linked with the strength to kill wolves or what makes the men transform.
Now, while I enjoyed this book and the narrative it chose to present, I couldn’t help asking: what happens when you kill the wolves yet the system remains the same?
As we see from the novel, Bisou’s grandmother had to live a solitary life to be able to hunt. It angered me to read of this woman giving up family and friendship because of these wolves, and although the grandmother hunted down many, the wolves still came.
Question: You kill the wolf but what about its legacy?
How do we dismantle that?
We bloody our hands, we bury the bodies, we work in silence but the wolves continue to feast on us. To be honest, that unanswered particular of the book frustrated me. As bloodthirsty as we might be to hunt down the men who assaulted us, we know the wolves are cunning and possess a power (patriarchy!) not afforded to us. My own wolves escaped me years ago and till today I dream of the blood I could draw. I wanted to watch these women dismantle the system that made us vulnerable and yet, the wolves were killed and we never get to see the justice system keep us safe.
Bisou had put it very neatly when she said,
It’s not that we need more wolf hunters, it’s that we need men to stop becoming wolves.
I wanted to see the novel tackle that as well.
I do have to mention that while the novel does acknowledge the probability of there being other “hunters,” I did wonder what this meant for a trans person. We know that not all women menstruate, some men do, and there are also the experiences of non-binary persons. It would have been great to have the author explore these other experiences.
While it was empowering to read of these girls hunting down wolves, the reality is not as simple as that.
Understanding is part of it. We need to understand what motivates and drives the culture of toxic masculinity. We must be willing to look for it and call it out whenever it appears, whether it’s presented as jokes or as something else. And we must act. When we see it, we must protect those who are its victims. We must tell the boys who hold these ideas–the carries of this virus–to stop. To go elsewhere. To work on healing and educating themselves.
I enjoyed this book a lot, and I think it would have benefited from being a series to explore the foundation it had presented.
ENTER BELOW TO WIN A COPY OF RED HOOD! THIS GIVEAWAY IS OPEN U.S. PARTICIPANTS. THE GIVEAWAY RUNS FROM FEBRUARY 18 2020 UNTIL MARCH 3 2020.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ELANA K. ARNOLD is the author of critically acclaimed and award-winning young adult novels and children’s books, including the Printz Honor winner Damsel, the National Book Award finalist What Girls Are Made Of, and Global Read Aloud selection A Boy Called Bat and its sequels. Several of her books are Junior Library Guild selections and have appeared on many best book lists, including the Amelia Bloomer Project, a catalog of feminist titles for young readers. Elana teaches in Hamline University’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program and lives in Southern California with her family and menagerie of pets.
I received a free copy of RED HOOD BY ELANA K. ARNOLD from Balzer + Bray in exchange for my participation in the blog tour. Thank you to The Fantastic Flying Book Club for having me on the blog tour. However, this did not influence my review in any way.