Book Review: The Girl in Red by Christina Henry

“The goal was not to have a fancy movie fistfight that looked good from every angle. She wanted him down. She wanted him done. She wanted him unable to grab her.”

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The Girl in Red is a dark reimagining of Little Red Riding Hood set in a post-pandemic apocalyptic time where a young woman (Red) is trying to find her way to her grandmother’s house in the forest. Around her people are dying of the Cough (a respiratory virus sweeping the country killing people) or being sent to Quarantine camps. If it wasn’t already apparent, this is not the book for you if you are struggling with Covid anxieties.

The Cough’s symptoms are like most respiratory viruses, until the final, fatal stages, where strange things happen to those affected. As the story progresses, we learn more about the virus and the mysterious symptoms it has caused. It has caused a crisis around the country and everything is very apocalyptic with abandoned houses, looting, gangs, soldiers patrolling the streets, and predatory men in the forest looking to take advantage of a young woman alone.

But Red is not any young woman alone in the forest. She is more prepared than most for the situation she finds herself in. She’s been obsessed with virus narratives for some time; she knows what she needs to do and how to prepare herself though, frustratingly, her family are not like her. They are a prime example of people who don’t take the situation seriously until it is too late. Red has a prosthetic leg and they are constantly undermining what she is capable of as a result of it, but Red is determined, smart, and resourceful. And she has an axe. She doesn’t want to be a killer, but she won’t hesitate to protect herself. There are some brutal, violent, and bloody scenes in this book, and many involve Red and acts of violence aimed at her. There are also some brief scenes involving white supremacist violence towards Red’s family (her father is black and she and her brother are mixed race). These are not the main focus of the novel but they are still hard to read; the fact that this act is perpetrated by people the family thought to be friends emphasises how much the the world has changed in the face of this crisis.

Red meets others on her journey, although she does not trust easily, sheforms tentative friendships. I had a real soft spot for young Riley who has stayed youthful and trusting despite what he has been through. I also adored D.J. who has made very different choices to Red, but for similar reasons. He is kind to her and shows that even in the worst crisis, amongst the worst of humanity, there is kindness to be found, and hope that things will be different.

The Girl in Red is told in present and “before” chapters so we gradually piece together what happened to Red to lead her to where she is now. As the story progresses we learn more about why she is alone and what happened to her family. There are some really gut-wrenching, emotional scenes in the “before” chapters, and whilst you know Red makes the right decision for her survival in those moments, you can’t help but wonder what impact it will all have on her later.

The book ended in a brilliant place and left me with a sense of apprehension and hope for Red’s future. I loved this one. It is hands down my favourite of Christina’s books so far.

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