The heat here has been miserable, really miserable, making it difficult to find the motivation to do much of anything. This, coupled with the fact I worked out a bit too hard at the gym, made me pick up the book I purchased over the weekend. The Girl in Red by Christina Henry.
I’m bad about my TBR.
But I’d read Alice and Lost by Henry, and I’d particularly enjoyed Lost, so her newest bubbled to the top of the pile. I also hadn’t put it away, so it was sitting within easy reach.
I mean, look at this cover. Who wouldn’t be drawn in?
The writing style and pacing were what I’ve come to know and enjoy. For the most part, the book is intricately plotted, and Red is a well crafted character. Even if I didn’t like her much, I certainly admired her. She’s resilient, resourceful, and determined. Most of all, I appreciated Henry’s choice to make her an amputee. It suits the character and is deftly handled, explaining the challenges Red faces both in the past and the present, particularly in the apocalyptic setting. The action scenes are engaging without being overly graphic or gratuitous.
Red is also bi-racial, and Henry uses Red’s divided identity as a catalyst for some of the events in the novel, especially in the beginning, but then the idea is dropped unresolved. The last mention of race comes in the final third of the novel when Red is critical of her brother Adam for always conforming and following the fads of white guys his age. Yet no other alternative is offered for exactly how Adam should act. There is even a back-handed criticism of her mother for wanting smooth curls, but the parts of herself that Red seems to like the most are her large, race-indeterminate curls and light eyes. Red never sees the hypocrisy in those facts and the reader is left confused.
Another weakness is the fact that Henry– in the space of about 300 words–has Red admit that she is bisexual and briefly analyze why she’s been unsuccessful in relationships. While I think the idea of a bisexual character is great, it feels false, like Henry was box ticking characteristics for Red. There is no mention before or after this episode of any romantic or lustful feelings, not even in the past. Henry does not make Red’s sexuality a part of her identity. In fact, the entire conversation could be removed from the novel and nothing would change.
All this could be forgiven since the rest of the novel is quite strong, and despite the fact I didn’t agree with Henry’s choices, I could live with them…until the last three pages. Without giving away spoilers, Red’s character arc is truncated. Her decision to live without knowing why the Cough came about and why the monsters were created feel all wrong. Red has been relentless in pursuing the truth, but suddenly decides “Nah. It’s all good.” Even the fight scene before this doesn’t lead to such a turnabout. Perhaps it has something to do with all of the flashbacks so that Red’s arc is obscured and non-linear, but I doubt it. Instead, it comes across as Henry just being done with the book, especially in light of the one page resolution that skips 25 days. If the one week or so that the novel is set during has been so fraught with danger, how could Red and her companions go nearly 4 weeks with nothing of note happening?
Having said all of this, I may read the other books by her, but if you’re unfamiliar with her work, read Lost. It’s much better.