Review – Red
  • Posted:
  • February 3, 2013
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Red is a 2013 debut young adult novel by Alison Cherry; the first debut that I have read this year. It features a small town in Iowa called Scarletville, where the denizens are largely redheads and proud of it. In fact the Redhead populace are lauded for the genetic blessings in such a way that the townsfolk spurns all other appearances and ethnicities (of which there is a diversity of this – you’re either white and redhead, or white and not a redhead). It’s not good to live in Scarletville unless you have the goods.

Felicity has the goods, or so everybody thinks. She’s a natural Strawbie, a pejorative term in the town for anyone that is a strawberry blonde, the lowest of the low on the “red cred” totem pole. Felicity’s mother, Ginger, is a proud redhead and a former beauty queen in the town’s annual pageant, Miss Scarlet. Felicity was a runner up for the junior pageant, Miss Ruby Red, and her mother has been grooming her to be in the pageant since she was two year’s old, when she started dying her hair in secret at the town’s clandestine beauty parlour Rouge-o-rama. Ginger would never settle for giving birth to a Strawbie, after all.

Felicity lives in terror of being discovered, of her social status being nil. The only thing worse than being a Strawbie (or a blonde, or a brunette) is being an Artie – a person who dies their hair to fake their social appeal. She has the perfect boyfriend (Brent, a football playing Auburn) and two best redhead friends, Ivy and Haylie, but the pageant turns Felicity’s life on its head. Someone knows that she is an Artie and is blackmailing her and threatens to ruin everything Felicity has been working towards. She needs that money to escape Scarletville and study Art in college. Will she be able to survive such torment to achieve her goals?

For the record, Felicity has the worst first world problems I have ever read in YA. She expends a lot of time and energy focusing on her hair, on what this decision will do to her “Red cred” or that conversation with a non-redhead will do to her life. She pines for art school and a life away from Scarletville but she has no idea how to change things. Her life, at 16 years of age, seems grounded in Scarletville and nothing else can get her away from the dresses and the routines and the shine of being a pageant girl. It reminds me of people who grow up in abusive households; they do not realize how extensive the abuse is until they step outside of it and see it for a distance for some time. Then they realize just how insane their life is/was… that is Felicity, to a tee.

At times I found this novel absolutely brilliant… when I thought it might be satire. It reminds me of Heathers in a way that I adore. But, it could be sharper and the scenes could have more contrast to them. I never bought the conflict of the story. I never related to Felicity. Worrying about “fitting in” or “being popular” has never been a concern of mine, even in high school (when it should have been). It’s hard to fall into someone’s world when their vapidity burgeons into straight up bigotry. I understand that this is the point of the novel, a town so bigoted they cannot see past their own Titian red tresses. But, and this is a strong but, that doesn’t make it an enjoyable book from a Humanist stand point. I fear I was reading far too much into it. But, if it’s a parody of small town life, and small town bigotry (as I suspect it is) than it didn’t go far enough. Plain and simple.

There were moments when I loved this book – Felicity’s relationship with her friends, particularly tom boy iconoclast Ivy (who is one of the big reasons I kept reading). Her alliance with the art golden boy, Jonathan, was also a large driving force behind why I finished this novel. Having studied Fine Art as my major in college (painters for the win!) I fell in very naturally to the scenes set in the studio and galleries, where Jonathan and Felicity’s personalities really shone. The build up of their romance made me very happy as well.

…But it missed the mark. So, for that, I am giving it 3 out of 5 stars. I wished it was better (for me), but when I enjoyed it, I enjoyed it very much. So there’s that.

– BP

However, it does give me an excuse to use this video. So, for that, it’s a win.


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