Today I’m sharing another instalment of my Mini Review Mondays, after continuing it earlier this year! In case you haven’t seen any of my previous posts, I do ‘mini’ reviews of books that I’ve read, loved and usually promised to review ages ago.
Today, I’m focusing on three brilliant stories that I was lucky enough to read early, all of which come out this Thursday! I’m starting this off with the delectably dark Red Riding Hood inspired book, Red Hood, which I was lucky enough to be sent an ARC of by the wonderful Harper 360.
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 warnings: murder, violence, sexual assault, blood, graphic deaths, bullying, physical abuse, substance abuse
Arnold holds nothing back in this book. She wastes no time diving straight into the action and smashing taboos very early on, with discussion of periods and sex within the first chapter.
This is a book that pulsates with anger at rape culture and the vicious cycles of abuse that often go unpunished. In particular she tears down ideas of toxic masculinity and the culture of shame associated with menstruation. However, she is also careful to show how thin the line between justice and revenge is and this provokes some really interesting ideas.
Initially, the second person narration threw me a little bit, but as the story went on, I scarcely noticed it. In fact I began to like how I was disarmed and somewhat removed by this choice, as it added to the mysterious and slightly distant feel of the entire book. On the other hand, it also somehow produces the opposite effect by effectively drawing you in and immersing you completely in Bisou’s story.
To sum up, Red Hood is a book drenched in secrets that rallies against sexism through unbridled violence and female power.
Next up is the similarly magical, heart-wrenching If These Wings Could Fly, which I traded for an ARC of.
If These Wings Could Fly:
Trigger warning: physical abuse, domestic abuse, violence, emotional abuse
Tens of thousands of crows invading Auburn, Pennsylvania, is a problem for everyone in town except seventeen-year-old Leighton Barnes. For Leighton, it’s no stranger than her house, which inexplicably repairs itself every time her father loses his temper and breaks things.
Leighton doesn’t have time for the crows–it’s her senior year, and acceptance to her dream college is finally within reach. But grabbing that lifeline means abandoning her sisters, a choice she’s not ready to face.
With her father’s rage worsening and the town in chaos over the crows, Leighton allows herself a chance at happiness with Liam, her charming classmate, even though falling in love feels like a revolutionary act.
Balancing school, dating, and survival under the shadow of sixty thousand feathered wings starts to feel almost comfortable, but Leighton knows that this fragile equilibrium can only last so long before it shatters.
This is a stunning debut novel in so many ways. The writing is exquisite and the character arcs are really well fleshed-out.
McCauley really explores the complexities of domestic abuse and how it doesn’t create absolute scenarios, rather messy shades of grey. It perpetuates a culture of silence, shame and guilt that seeps under your bones, which Leighton and her sisters know only too well. I really liked how the magical realism in the story fed into this culture, with the house repairing itself and thereby hiding the damage wrecked upon the family. It’s in the torturous moments of waiting, of anticipation that really hit home with me, because I could feel the tension radiating off the pages. An extension of this was the physical presence of the crows, as they built up and gathered. It always felt like something was simmering beneath the pages, about to explode at a moment’s notice.
The bond between the siblings in this book is sublime, clearly showing their love for one another and how that helped them to survive and keep going.
I read this powerful, beautiful book in one sitting and would strongly encourage you to do the same.
Finally, I’m discussing the empowering, fierce Rules for Being a Girl!
Rules for Being a Girl:
Trigger warning: sexual assault
Marin has always been good at navigating these unspoken guidelines. A star student and editor of the school paper, she dreams of getting into Brown University. Marin’s future seems bright―and her young, charismatic English teacher, Mr. Beckett, is always quick to admire her writing and talk books with her.
But when “Bex” takes things too far and comes on to Marin, she’s shocked and horrified. Had she somehow led him on? Was it her fault?
When Marin works up the courage to tell the administration what happened, no one believes her. She’s forced to face Bex in class every day. Except now, he has an ax to grind.
But Marin isn’t about to back down. She uses the school newspaper to fight back and she starts a feminist book club at school. She finds allies in the most unexpected people, like “slutty” Gray Kendall, who she’d always dismissed as just another lacrosse bro. As things heat up at school and in her personal life, Marin must figure out how to take back the power and write her own rules.
I really enjoyed this feminist rallying cry of a book. It’s akin to Moxie, with elements of #MeToo and victim-blaming.
I really liked Marin as a main character, as she was willing to grow and learn in her feminism, prompting some excellent discussion of intersectional feminism and white privilege. She is strong and brave, but still has vulnerable and self-doubting moments, showing her manipulation by Bex. This gaslighting and abuse of power is also shown throughout the book, leading to a twist near the end of the book that I must admit I saw coming, but was still powerful.
The way that Marin’s narrative is questioned by most of those around her sadly reflects reality. The emphasis is put on her to prove the teacher’s guilt. A lot of the story made me realise how much subtle sexism is seen as acceptable, creating the wider victim-blaming culture around assault and consent.
I also enjoyed the romance aspect and how it didn’t dominate Marin’s story. She didn’t need to be ‘saved’ by a male character, rather have a support network and mutually beneficial romance.