Elana K. Arnold spins fairy tale into fact with her debut Red Hood, a Little Red Riding Hood, retelling that cuts to the bone.
Prom night: a long-awaited time for dancing, drinking, and for 16-year-old Bisou, wolf slaying. On the night of her junior prom, an incident with her boyfriend leaves Bisou running into the woods, the thud of footsteps hot on her trail. Yet, the thumps of pursuit are not those of dress-shoe-clad feet, but four paws and a hundred pounds of fur and muscle. With life or death on the line, Bisou kills the beast and returns home, dazed, unscathed, and thinking the worst is behind her. The next morning, however, the body of a fellow classmate turns up in the woods, in the same location as the dead wolf and bearing the same wounds.
Convinced her mind might’ve been playing tricks on her that night, Bisou, pushing aside thoughts of the wolf, grapples with the knowledge that the boy is dead, and it might’ve been her fault. When she yet again stumbles upon another wolf, poised to attack another girl, Bisou discovers a cycle that predates her, a vicious cycle of predators and those who hunt them.
Arnold’s novel is unlike any I’ve ever read, with the grossly-underutilized second-person point-of-view, sentences so lyrical and beautifully-crafted you relish in each one, and a story that utterly transcends its fairy tale origins. Red Hood is a firebrand in fiction, a story that pokes and prods and rips to the core, and it’s a story, albeit wreathed in fiction, that many will recognize. Many will relate to and have experienced first-hand. It makes it all the more personal, all the more powerful a read, especially coupled with its second-person storytelling. Though but a small shift, from I’s or she’s to you’s, it alters the story’s intensity by bridging the gap between character and reader, protagonist and person, fiction and reality. It has a potent effect on the story that further demonstrates Arnold’s mastery of her craft.
Although Red Hood derives from its similarly-named fairy tale, the similarities end in name and a few loose connections, for the tale is raw and gritty and the protagonist far from meek. Bisou is such a strong character, soft-hearted yet iron-willed, and she rises to the challenge of her lineage despite the cost it’ll have on her life. A loyal and noble character, she’s one you’re happy to journey alongside throughout the novel.
Put frankly, Red Hood is a beautifully-woven story, but greater than that, it’s a book with a purpose told with purpose, a social commentary rooted within. Of toxic masculinity, the danger it poses, and full of female empowerment, Red Hood is not just a must-read but an important read.
Beautifully-written and utterly captivating, Red Hood will leave you hunting for more after you flip that final page.