A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Red Hood, by award-winning author Elana K. Arnold (Damsel), is an unapologetically feminist twist on the classic fairy tale. Bisou, a girl in a red hooded sweatshirt, discovers she has the instincts and strength to stop boys from hurting the young women they prey upon. Positive messages are decidedly women-centric, emphasizing menstruation as shame-free, consensual sex as a norm, and the power of camaraderie between women. Characters are racially diverse, and Bisou's circle of girlfriends are admirable and fierce. James is a feminist model for young men. There is violence: In Bisou's traumatic childhood and in the girls' experiences with boys in high school. In several bloody scenes, Bisou kills wolves who are on the attack, using sticks, her own hands, and a special necklace that hides a scythe. Bisou and James engage in consensual sex, described in some detail. Characters swear regularly, including "s--t" and "f--k." One party scene includes non-excessive alcohol and marijuana use by minors.
- Parents say
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What's the story?
In RED HOOD, readers follow Bisou into the woods towards home after an embarrassing incident with boyfriend James. A wolf attacks her there, and in self-defense, she kills it. The next day, she learns that Tucker, a classmate who'd drunkenly forced himself on her at a dance earlier that night, was found dead where she killed the wolf, and she realizes that Tucker was probably the wolf. After Bisou saves Keisha from a similar wolf attack, and supports another friend, Maggie, who's being sexually harassed by a likely incel ("involuntary celibate"), her grandmother, Mémé, tells Bisou about the mysterious powers she's inherited that come with the full moon and her period. Mémé also fills in many blanks about Bisou's violent early childhood. The remainder of the story focuses on the bonds between Bisou, her friends, and Mémé, as well as the strength and power they find in one another to confront toxic masculinity and the real violence it engenders.
Is it any good?
This absorbing, gorgeously written novel both challenges and inspires readers. An early sex scene and extended descriptions of Bisou's first period may cause even strident feminists discomfort. But the underlying messages are that joyous sex between consenting teens is sometimes a healthy part of growing up and that menstruation is not inherently shameful. Readers are rewarded with lyrical prose and a magical story that affirms the power we can find in one another. Though trauma and threat of male violence is ever-present, it's inspiring to see the characters overcome their troubles.
The narrator uses "you," which effectively puts the reader in Bisou's shoes, but it may take some getting used to, and inserted poems have no context until late in the story. But aside from these small hiccups,Red Hood is a truly satisfying read. While teen readers will benefit from learning about the timely problem of toxic masculinity, they will also enjoy the twist on the classic fairy tale and remember the fierce women characters (and the men who support them) long after turning the last page.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the opening scenes in Red Hood. What surprised you? Why do you think the author included a sex scene and descriptions of menstruation in the very beginning of the story? What effect did it have on you as a reader?
What are your thoughts on Bisou's inherited power? Is her power the best solution to the problem of men who hurt and/or kill women? What other solution might there be?
What similar experiences bring togther the circle of young women Bisou befriends and Mémé advises? Do you share a strong bond with a friend or a group of friends? How do they help you? How do you help them?
- Author: Elana K. Arnold
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Activism, Magic and Fantasy, Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, High School
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Balzar+Bray
- Publication date: February 25, 2020
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 18
- Number of pages: 368
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: May 14, 2020
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