The Girl in Red by Catherine Henry
Titan, pb, £7.99,
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
The Cough has decimated the world, only a handful of survivors are left and not all of them are friendly. Grandma’s house is a sanctuary, a home in the middle of a dense forest, perfect as a bug out location. Red has to travel over three hundred miles on her own, staying off the main roads and cutting across country and through forests to avoid the military, who want to put survivors into designated safe zones, and self-styled militia, who have less noble intentions. But other people are not the only ones in the wood. There’s something else and Red’s just strayed into its territory.
This is the latest in Henry’s series of fairy tale retellings. It’s the first I’ve read and I found the hook quite engaging. Red is caught up in a pandemic that kills everyone who catches it, and Grandma’s house is a doomsday preppers dream, isolated, self-sufficient, and safe. This change of purpose for the journey piqued my interest straight away, Red is not a passive character. She is in control of the path she takes, who she interacts with and how she chooses to defend herself.
The story is told in two parts, BEFORE and AFTER. BEFORE shows us how Red went from a college student with parents and a brother, to where we find her in AFTER, a girl on her own with a blood-stained axe. The two parts weave together effectively, memories impacting on her actions in the present, the constant reminders not to think about her brother driving the reader on to find out where he’s gone.
Red herself is an interesting character, strong, independent, intelligent, with a multiracial background and a prosthetic leg. Her prosthetic leg is a burden at times, walking 300 miles when she can’t stop and treat her stump properly causes physical pain, but Red deals with it stoically. She is a powerful heroine from under-represented sections of society.
Throughout the book, there are points where Red faces great emotional trauma and yet she doesn’t deal with them. She has “a closet” she buries all her emotion and grief in, and the reader is given no indication that she is ever going to deal with them, even if she manages to reach the sanctuary of Grandma’s house. I can understand there are times and places for people to handle grief, and Red is not in that place, but the lack of promise of an emotional response in a later, safer, place, left me a little cold. I wanted to see how events played out, but I didn’t feel for Red or the other characters.
At first, this book took a fairy tale and put it in an end-of-the-world scenario, but then it took a different path, a bit like Stephen King’s Dreamcatchers. There is something more in the woods than people with guns looking for survivors, a creature taking advantage of the Cough and feeding off people. There was some foreshadowing in the form of Red and her brother discussing different horror/monster movies they had seen. The Girl in Red is an interesting retelling of Little Red Riding Hood in a Twenty-First Century setting and a must for anyone who loves the genre.