Red Spikes



Dark, brutal, otherworldly stories for mature readers.

What parents need to know

Educational value

The author notes in her acknowledgements what inspired her stories, and some readers may be interested in following up on some of this source material.

Positive messages

Stories impart subtle messages about what it means to love someone or to do the right thing. Not all the stories are purely moralistic: In one story, a dead girl trapped in Limbo, wishes to experience any feeling, even the suffering of others in Hell.

Positive role models

There are characters who accept their duty, stand up for bullied kids, or realize what it means to love someone. 


Plenty, including monkeys being raped by other monkeys, semi-graphically; an old woman is severely beaten; a man finds a dead baby in a bag; a man is knifed and killed; another is pitchforked.


A scene of childbirth, sexual references, a teen tells another to grab a naked old man "by the nuts."



Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Needle-injected drugs, a fairy smokes a pipe.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this is a very mature story collection. There is plenty of violence, including a horrifying scene of souls trapped in Hell, a semi-graphic rape scene between monkeys, portrayed with human thoughts and emotions, and a giant who makes his clothes -- and even new eyelids -- out of the bodies of kidnapped children. The language and ideas mark it for older teens as well. The stories do impart subtle messages about what it means to love someone or to do the right thing. And the author notes in her acknowledgements what inspired her stories, and some readers may be interested in following up on some of this source material.

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What's the story?

This is a collection of 10 short stories, many involving the supernatural or other worlds. A sampling: When the leader of a monkey tribe dies, males fight for power and the females are raped; a man is led to Hell by a group of dead teens trapped in Limbo; and when witchcraft is banned, an old witchy woman unleashes a plague of mice.

Is it any good?


There is no doubt that this is a mature collection: both the language and gritty details mark it for older teens and up. As with most story collections, some installments will resonate better with readers than others. But the author's language and dark imagery will transport readers time and time again, leaving them with haunting images -- and much to think about both in terms of our universal fears -- and also what it means to love someone, or be a hero.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about short story collections. What is appealing about reading them? Do you often find that you like some of the stories better than others? What did you think of this one?

  • These stories are otherworldly and read like very dark fairy tales (one is even based on the nursery rhyme Wee Willie Winkie). But they are definitely for mature readers. If you were the publisher, would you have marked this as a young adult book?

Book details

Author:Margo Lanagan
Genre:Short Stories
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Alfred A. Knopf
Publication date:October 1, 2007
Number of pages:167

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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