Book Review: Sister’s Red

Jackson Pearce, Sister's Red, fairy tale, little red riding hood

Scarlett and Rosie March hunt the creatures known as Fenris–werewolves with voracious appetites–since the death of their beloved grandmother. The same Fenris that devoured their grandmother also left Scarlett with ugly scars all over her body. Accompanied by Scarlett’s partner, Silas, the trio kill the dangerous, blood-thirsty creatures relentlessly. But a foreboding message about a new werewolf has the trio temporarily moving out of the small town of Ellison and into Atlanta. Surrounded by new dangers and mysteries, Silas and the March sisters must work together to prevent the deaths of more young women.

Sister’s Red is a great but not exceptional retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. I find many fairy tale retellings to be okay, but not great, so this book is worth the read.

One thing Jackson Pearce did so well was that she created a positive and interesting relationship between sisters. Sisters are often pitted against each other as rivals in literature and in real life. Instead, Scarlett and Rosie are much more concerned with losing one another than they are with outdoing each other. They were also good about saving themselves instead of falling into the damsel in distress cliche.

Another refreshing concept about this story was that the monsters were not considered the love interests for the main characters. No New Moon puppy love here. The wolves were big, the wolves were bad, the wolves were ugly.

Pearce also walked the fine line of talking about a much heavier topic–sexual assault–through the retelling of a well-known fable. The crafting of this careful parallel was excellent. The wolves violent hunger was spurred on by lust–tactfully connecting the two. The color of red, a familiar symbol for blood, sexiness, and desire, was used to lure the wolves. Whether this commonality was intentional or not by the author, it worked rather well.

Finally, the inclusion of a young woman who was not “beautiful” because of her scars was realistic, heartbreaking, and yet simultaneously inspiring. While Scarlett had every right to hate those that looked upon her with fear or disdain, she chose instead to protect them. Her perspective was one of both hurt and understanding, warring between the need for acceptance and the rejection of it. Her character was passionate and independent and atypical.

That being said, there were a few things that bothered me.

For one, Silas, the male hunting partner of Scarlett and later (spoiler) the love interest of Rosie, was a bit odd. Rejected by his family for not being a woodsman, 21-year-old Silas is terrified he will lose the affection of his longtime friends the March sisters and be alone. The March sisters, of course, do not leave him, and yet Silas acts as the main catalyst for (spoiler) splitting the sisters apart. He is also a 21-year-old man dating and having sexual encounters with a 16-year-old girl. The age of consent in Georgia is 16, but it still bothered me, especially since Silas pushed Rosie to do things she wouldn’t normally do (things to help her “grow” that ultimately benefited him). While I found him unlikable I still thought his character was well-written.

Another thing that perturbed me was that Scarlett was (spoiler) the one that was left alone at the end. While it was inevitable, it really bothered me. Ultimately, Scarlett never found love, and the two that did love her left her. It reinforced the flawed idea that she was too ugly to be loved. While this outcome is complicated and bittersweet, I found it to be a terrible disappointment. I didn’t want Scarlett to fall for Silas–I thought Silas wasn’t good enough for her. Yet I was hoping (spoiler) the Potential–a young man with the necessary components to become a werewolf–was someone other than Silas, so that Scarlett could meet a new guy. I fully acknowledge that this is more of a personal preference than a writing error.

Everything else I noticed was minor. There were a lot of visual descriptions that I found somewhat distracting from the narrative but ultimately weren’t badly written. I was also a little distressed by how little back story there was for the wolves individually and as a whole, as they were once human beings.

Overall I would recommend this book to the right audience. I think adults should read it. It contains graphic violence, (minor) sexual content, and the mature concepts of abuse and sexual assault.

Jackson Pearce writes books for young adult and middle grade readers. She received a degree in English from the University of Georgia. Sister’s Red is a companion book to other fairy tale retellings by Pearce including Sweetly, Fathomless, and Cold Spell.


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