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.
I’d like to start this review off by saying I think this might very much be a case of “it’s not you, it’s me”. I really think this book will find the right readers but unfortunately I was not one of them. I think the overall message got a little muddled as well and I normally do not post spoilers in reviews so I won’t discuss explicitly why I believe this in the review. However, if you’d like to discuss this with me if you have also read this book or just want to know the spoilers, hit me up in the comments!
First things first: this is a very loose retelling of Red Riding Hood. I say “loose” because it is not a very direct retelling, it’s actually hard to draw any comparisons with the original tale at all. Which is perfectly fine, but I personally was looking for the comparisons and was expecting more of a direct retelling. So I was a little disappointed by that. If you’re looking for a Red Riding Hood retelling I would probably say that this won’t be for you either unless you enjoy really indirect retellings.
The story is told in 2nd person POV which I admit is a unique choice and I liked that it was different. However, I’m not quite sure what it really did for the story. I did enjoy the writing though especially since I didn’t really enjoy the story itself and kept on reading. It was a bit on the simple side but it was easy to keep reading so I’m fine with it. The pacing is more on the slow side, there isn’t a ton of action. There is a twist but honestly I found this to be so predictable that I wouldn’t even really consider it one. I knew what was going on before the first 10% of the book was up. The ending also felt really abrupt and questionable, like the author just decided “yep I’m just gonna end it like that.” I didn’t like it.
As for the plot itself I can’t really divulge anything without entering spoiler territory. I really, really don’t want to spoil the story as all of my reviews are spoiler free. However, I will say this much: the story is bizarre and I couldn’t even begin to tell you what it’s about beyond going over the overall message of the book. The message itself is a spoiler but I just want you guys to know that I did not agree with it. It’s not a good message and I just don’t understand why the author took it to the place that she did. There were quite a few themes that I do agree with being in the book: female empowerment and challenging toxic masculinity. But like I said I don’t like how the characters and author went about challenging these things on page.
There was another really central theme that played a pretty big part in the book and that is periods. Menstrual cycles. That time of the month. Auntie Flow. You get the picture. Now I have quite a few things to say about this so bear with me. First things first, I am 100% all for normalizing periods in literature especially YA. This is so, so important particularly for young readers that also experience this. This book has some very in depth and descriptive scenes involving periods and while I can appreciate exposing readers to this very real and perfectly normal aspect of the female body, I personally didn’t like it. I know, I know. As I said I am all for normalizing this bodily function in books. It’s great! However, I personally as a human being, cannot read in depth descriptions of bodily functions with blood or medical/anatomical descriptions in general. I just can’t. I find it extremely triggering. Therefore, I had a hard time reading through these parts in the book. So I’m a bit of a mixed bag on this aspect, I appreciate what it was trying to do but for me I just had a hard time getting through it.
I don’t really have much to say about any of the characters, I actually thought they all kind of fell flat. Bisou is the main character and I felt like she didn’t have a lot going on personality wise and that very much could be because this is told in 2nd person POV. I don’t think that POV style did her any favors. There’s also Bisou’s grandmother, Sybil, who is just about the sweetest person as well as a total badass, I really liked her. Then we have Bisou’s boyfriend James, who is just sort of there. And then two of Bisou’s friends Maggie and Keisha, who were both fine. Like I said I just felt really disconnected from the characters so I just don’t have a lot of opinion on them, they’re just fine.
There is a bit of romance in this book but it definitely isn’t a central focus. What is a focus, though, is teens deciding for themselves when they’re ready to have sex and with whom. This was actually really well done and is shown in a very responsible fashion and props to Elana K. Arnold for adding this into the story in the manner that she did. This is one of the few themes/messages that I feel was done well and didn’t get muddled within the story. There are a few sex scenes within the book which I’m mentioning for those of you who may not be comfortable with that content.
What I Loved:
- Normalization of periods
- Writing was simple and easy to keep reading on
- Themes of healthy teen sex, female empowerment, sisterhood, and challenging toxic masculinity
What I Didn’t Love:
- Graphic depictions that I personally found triggering, hard to read for me
- Overall message is very muddled and I don’t agree with it
- The overall story is very bizarre and a little confusing
- Not a direct Red Riding Hood retelling
- Pacing is slow, not a lot of action or anything going on
- Abrupt and odd ending
- Characters felt flat
Overall I appreciate what this book was trying to do but overall I just didn’t like the way the author went about it. Some things were done well but others got really muddled throughout the story and I just didn’t agree with the message. The story was also, in general, just a little too odd and confusing for me. So I’m just going to have to give this one 2 stars, the 2nd star purely because I appreciated the attempt.
Trigger Warnings: Underage Drinking, Drug Use, Murder, Gore, Abuse, & Harassment
**** Huge thank you to the publisher for providing me with a copy via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review ****
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I agree with a lot of what you said. The “period moments” were excessive and I was left wondering what exactly the author was trying to say. Sure, it’s a feminist tale and she is trying to portray the strength of being a woman and sticking together but…the actual message she was going for is a little unclear? If I stop focusing on what the author was actually trying to say and just see it as fiction, then yah it’s an interesting take on Little Red Riding Hood.