Today, we're reviewing Alison Cherry's Red. This is a fun YA contemporary which examines the challenges of fitting in a world, where conformity may not be the best thing, after all.
Hardcover, 320 pages
Expected publication: October 8th 2013 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Format read: E-ARC via Edelweiss
Synopsis via Goodreads:
Having red hair is all that matters in Scarletville. Redheads hold all the power—and everybody knows it. That’s why Felicity is scared down to her roots when she receives an anonymous note:
I know your secret.
Because Felicity is a big fake. Her hair color comes straight out of a bottle. And if anyone discovered the truth, she’d be a social outcast faster than she could say "strawberry blond." Her mother would disown her, her friends would shun her, and her boyfriend would dump her. And forget about winning that pageant crown and the prize money that comes with it—money that would allow her to fulfill her dream of going to art school.
Felicity isn’t about to let someone blackmail her life away. But just how far is she willing to go to protect her red cred?
On the one hand, the idea of a red-headed sanctuary named Scarletsville based in middle America, seemed incredibly unique to me. The idea that the main character would have to struggle to hide the fact that she isn't the ideal type of red-headed beauty, came off as almost brilliantly Seussian.
On the other hand, I wasn't sure if this would be one of those situations where the concept would be so much better than the actual execution.
So it was with my fingers crossed, that I delved into the ARC of Red, wanting the book to be just as good as I hoped.
Things that worked:
Felicity St. John is basically the perfect example of the dichotomies that are constantly at war in a teenaged girl.
She's smart, she's beautiful, she has talent, good friends and a doting boyfriend... but she also has a big secret. She's terrified that people in Scarletsville will find out that she is in fact a strawbie, someone who is not - by the town's standards, at any rate - a genuine redhead. As a participant in the upcoming Miss Scarlet pageant, Felicity is now desperate to protect her secret more than ever.
Though Felicity’s struggles may sound like classic example of first!world!problems!, Cherry does a fantastic job of skillfully showing how Felicity's fears about her hair, are in fact, just as real as any other teenager’s fear about fitting in.
Felicity’s genuinely afraid that she won’t be liked if she doesn’t fit into the mold prescribed by her community, even though the reader (and some secondary characters) realize early on, that she clearly has so much more to offer the world.
Thanks to Cherry’s skill as a storyteller, the reader not only relates to Felicity’s struggles, but also cheers her on, as she grows and comes into her own throughout the course of the novel.
As for the secondary characters, they were fantastic in their own right. Felicity’s two best friends are loyal, have notable personalities of their own, and are strongly essential to the story. Felicity’s mother is the quintessential stage mom, but she’s this way for a reason. Even though the reader may not be disposed to like her, Cherry’s storytelling prowess makes sure that we definitely feel sorry for her.
* The writing/world-building
The world building for Scarletsville is clever, and well thought-out.
Cherry makes it clear just how such a town could exist in the first place, along with the various nuisances that exist in a discriminatory town like this – e.g. secret hair dye facilities; segregation amongst different groups of redheads – and how the town can persist.
Even when Scarletsville collides with the real world, the transition between the red head zone verses the non-red head zone is smooth, seamless and believable.
As for using the Miss Scarlet pageant (and the prom court, at a lesser degree) to build upon the Scarletsville world – it’s a smart stroke of genius. Nothing ups the stakes and the drama like competition, and Cherry utilizes the motivations/competitive juices of characters beautifully.
* The plotting
The plotting in Red is slow, but also delightfully unexpected. Cherry always seemed to have the knack of choosing the off-beaten path for development, making the reading experience rich and new.
There were several points where I expected the plot to go one way – as it would have in any other book/movie/tv show - but Cherry always chose the path that made me develop a newfound appreciation for her characters and her story.
* The romance on the back-burner
There are definitely romantic elements in this book, but they almost play a secondary role to Felicity's personal journey. I loved the fact that Cherry skillfully used the romantic elements (and love interests) to highlight both Felicity's best and worst traits.
More importantly, I loved the fact that Felicity herself came to recognize how something like a relationship could impact her state of mind - in the best way possible.
Things that didn't work/Things to consider:
The third-person limited felt a little stilted at times, and I'll be honest: it actually took me awhile to get used to the style. I had a pretty difficult time getting through the first chapter, because of the narration.
However, I would encourage readers with the same issues to keep reading, because the story does absolutely suck you in. The pay-off is worth it!
I highly recommend this book for fans of contemporary fiction, but I also recommend this book for fans who enjoy films like Edward Scissorhands, or Mean Girls - basically, fans of movies with heart, and where people triumph over group think, and take pride in themselves.
Disclaimer: I received an E-ARC of Red from Random House via Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! :)