Review: Red by Alison Cherry

RedTitle: Red

Author: Alison Cherry

Genre: YA Contemporary, Satire(?), Social Issues

Publication Date: October 8, 2013

Source: eARC from the publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis: Felicity St. John has it all—loyal best friends, a hot guy, and artistic talent. And she’s right on track to win the Miss Scarlet pageant. Her perfect life is possible because of just one thing: her long, wavy, coppery red hair.

Having red hair is all that matters in Scarletville. Redheads hold all the power—and everybody knows it. That’s why Felicity is scared down to her roots when she receives an anonymous note:

I know your secret.

Because Felicity is a big fake. Her hair color comes straight out of a bottle. And if anyone discovered the truth, she’d be a social outcast faster than she could say “strawberry blond.” Her mother would disown her, her friends would shun her, and her boyfriend would dump her. And forget about winning that pageant crown and the prize money that comes with it—money that would allow her to fulfill her dream of going to art school.

Felicity isn’t about to let someone blackmail her life away. But just how far is she willing to go to protect her red cred?

3.5/5 stars – Bad as a satire but great as a “normal” novel

Red initially sounded like a possibly dark mystery set in a strange town full of redheads, but it’s actually supposed to be a satire. Huh. Because I wanted to love this novel, I kept that in mind as I tore through this thoroughly engrossing read, but it ended up not working out that way. Red is entertaining and comes with a great cast of characters, but a good satire it is not.

Our strawbie (a strawberry blonde, though she dyes it) heroine Felicity is such a dynamic character. How she changes once her brunette classmate Gabby starts blackmailing her (it’s not a spoiler because she finds out so early on) is a wonderful transformation that helps her find what she really wants–which is not the pageant life her mother forced on her–and so much more. She carries the weight of the story easily on her shoulders, but she doesn’t even need to carry it alone because the other characters are just as strong.

Falicity’s two best friend Ivy and Haylie are mainly here mainly to act as symbols; Haylie embodies the typical redhead thinking in Scarletville while Ivy is a foil to that, though it bothers me Ivy never mentions or accepts the privilege she has as a redhead in Scarletville. Gabby = love and that’s that. Well, not really. She resorts to blackmail to institute some changes and that’s not great, but her reasons behind it once they’re revealed are really smart and she’s got all the sense of the novel. This is a ladies’ book, definitely. They rule it all! But the romance Felicity has with brown-haired artist Jonathan? Adorable friendship-turned romance deal.

But now to the unfortunately weak satire elements. First off, the use of hair color to represent racial-ethnic identities is an absolute no and kind of offensive. Hair color is so much more fluid–a blonde can go black-haired easily–and racial-ethnic identities are so not–because an Asian woman, for instance, can’t make herself white no matter what she does–that the metaphor quickly falls apart, taking the satire and the already-difficult-to-believe-in setting with it. Satires grounded in believable places work better.

The closest it gets to satire are the pageant elements, but those are very weak too. Satire, in a nutshell, will take the normal, emphasize it to absurdity with one technique or another, and present that absurdity as normal. The absurdity of pageant life as presented here is normal both in this book and in real life. Nothing Felicity’s mom puts her through for the pageant is anything I haven’t seen or heard already as normal in that area, so if this were satire, that would mean Toddlers and Tiaras is satire too. Sadly, it’s not.

Though it falls apart as a satire after just a few chapters, reading it as a “normal” novel once those elements wear off gives you something deeply entertaining. I’m definitely on board for Cherry’s next novel, due out sometime in 2014. With characters and writing as strong as this, I’d have to be a fool to miss out because of a horrid metaphor!

3 thoughts on “Review: Red by Alison Cherry

  1. YAY! I’m glad this book was so entertaining. Shame about the satire bits, but AWESOME about the strong characters. I can’t wait to read this. Your review has made me a hundred times more excited about it, especially since I never really thought it was going to be a satire (though I do love a good satire).

    • I didn’t think it was going to be a satire either. That element hasn’t been well-advertised and it’s an important one in how readers approach the novel, so… I bet you were happy when I stopped tweeting about it and you could go back to being on Twitter without seeing me be a Negative Nancy about the parts of the book I didn’t like/wanted to commit to memory via tweet. 😛 Here’s hoping you enjoy it too, Christina Gillian! ACK. I don’t know why I said Christina. I think it was because your comment came in at the same time as Christina’s usual deluge. SHAME. EMBARRASSMENT.

  2. Wow, you actually came out higher on this than I did. I didn’t dislike this, but I didn’t like it either. The MC was pretty personality-less. Ha, you loved Gabby? I loved Ivy. And also that french fry restaurant. And the dress shop run by the (in my head, at least) drag queen that will find you something that makes you look banging. I want to go to there.

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