The West Memphis Three

While I was on vacation, the news came out that the West Memphis Three had been set free. 

See the coverage from the Arkansas Times, such as here and here. As explained by that paper, “The West Memphis Three are Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, Jr. and Jason Baldwin. In 1994, two juries found the men, who were teenagers at the time, guilty of murdering three eight-year-old boys (Stevie Branch, Michael Moore and Christopher Byers) in May 1993 in West Memphis. Echols was sentenced to death, Baldwin and Misskelley to life without parole.” Read the full article, which includes the ages of those involved, allegations of satanic rituals, the legal background, and the murders of the three young boys. 

Cleolinda has a round up of the background of the case. 

Like many people, I first became aware of the case due to the HBO Documentaries, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at  Robin Hood Hills (1996) and Paradise Lost 2: Revelations (2000). (A third film, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory was just filmed, and will include the recent release of the three men). The murders of the three young boys (Steve Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore) are horrible and heartbreaking. Just as scary was the ages of those accused of the murders: Echols was 18, Misskelley 17, and Baldwin was 16. As explored in the films (and in the articles and websites above), the evidence against the three teenagers was weak, at best — no physical evidence linking them to the crimes or crime scene, rumors and innuendo about the boys based on their book and music and clothing choices, Echol’s exploration of non-Christian religions, and a confession from Misskelley that did not match the evidence the police had and which was later retracted. 

After Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley were released, I read The Devil’s Knot by Mara Leveritt (Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, 2003, personal copy) which filled in a lot about the case and gave much more background and details. It addresses questions such as why Echols was a suspect from the beginning, the relationships between the teenagers, the police investigation, the legal maneuverings, and the community reaction.

The teen appeal in learning more about this case and these three teenagers, now men, is obvious: Echols was 18, Misskelley 17, and Baldwin just 16 when they were arrested, tried as adults, and sentenced. There is also the mystery of it: if Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley did not murder these children, who did? Those who watched Paradise Lost and Paradise Lost 2 may have some suspicions of another possible suspect, but reading about recent DNA evidence (see Cleolinda’s post) show another, quite different, possibility. Questions about the law, equal access to law based on socioeconomic background, assumptions about people based on clothes, religion, music, as well as the impact of community perception can all be discussed. When it comes to perception, it’s not just the perception of those that believed that yes, satanic rituals took place and these three did it; what about the perceptions of the people portrayed in the film? Echols has a dynamic presence; one of the boy’s stepfather also grabs the viewer’s attention.

For various reasons, many people (including some family members of the dead children as well as the prosecutor) still believe in the guilt of the three men. That, too, can be discussion — how can anyone know guilt or innocence? What is the evidence? What would convince someone of guilt? And, because some family members supported the release of the three men, what would convince you to change your mind?

A word of caution: the murder of the three children is brutal and the documentaries include footage from the crime scene.

Review: Bumped

Bumped by Megan McCafferty. Balzer & Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins. 2011.  Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Welcome to 2035. A virus made almost everyone over the age of 18 infertile, which means that teen pregnancy (but not teen motherhood) is now the ideal.

Harmony and Melody are sixteen year old twins, separated at birth and recently reunited. Harmony was brought up in the religious community of Goodside and views sex and procreation as something that is sacred and belongs only in marriage. Teenagers are not just encouraged to marry, it’s arranged. Melody is from Princeton, goes to a private school, was raised by two professors who are all about Melody being the best that she can be — including being the best possible surrogate! In a world where teens make and  have the babies, the adults who want children are willing to pay top dollar.

Melody is about to start her first pregnancy; she’s just waiting for the couple who picked her to pick the perfect match for her. Harmony is convinced she needs to save Mel; it’s wrong to get pregnant for profit. So she leaves Goodside and her fiance, Ram, to save Mel. A case of mistaken identity changes both their futures, and make both girls rethink what they’ve been raised to believe.

The GoodBumped is a hilarious book, building on some of today’s obsessions: MTV’s 16 & Pregnant, celebrity bump watches , and aggressive marketing to teens. Seriously, when I see the fuss and reports on a celebrity “bump”, her clothes, her tummy, the quick ways to lose weight post baby, I think it already is over the top. McCafferty takes that increases it a thousand fold and pushes it over the mountain. The result is a world that carries T-shirts for teens that say “born to breed” and “my extra thirty is oh so flirty” and outlaws condoms.

Melody’s world is one where both teen boys and girls, are encouraged and rewarded to get pregnant. Not to be parents; drugs and societal pressure help prevent the teens from bonding with the “delivery.” I love this world-building; some of it is deliciously “oh come on” over the top and other parts are “oh…I can see that happening.” Melody’s generation is the first facing these issues, and how they have and have not reacted to the world changes because of the virus. Bumped covers a short timeframe, just a handful of days, with a narrow point of view, that of Melody and Harmony. I wondered, what do the adults think? What will this world be like in ten years, twenty, thirty? What about the world outside Mel’s and Harmony’s extremes? It’s a sign of a good book, and good world-building, that I think about the society outside the four corners of the book. These things I wonder about aren’t pertinent to Bumped, so of course, they are not included because they don’t matter to Mel or Harmony.

Mel’s world is one where teen pregnancies are accepted and encouraged, with the “delivery” going off to live with adoptive parents. A pregnancy is either “amateur,” unplanned, with post-delivery auctions, or “pro,” carefully arranged pregnancies with contracts that can include college tuition and cars. Because infertility occurs in both sexes, boys, too, can go pro. A “pro” is someone with an appealing nature and nurture package: good looks, the right DNA, good in school, good in sports. Too short, too tall, too fat, not the right shade of color? No chance to go pro, but some couple may take the baby at a post-delivery auction. Jondoe is an example of what it means to be a male pro: he is flown around the world for top pregnancy arrangements and has endorsement deals. His face is everywhere.  While this is Mel’s and Harmony’s story, McCafferty does give hints to a broader world where there are different reactions to pregnancies: families arranging for younger teens to act as surrogates for family members, religions that reacted differently than Goodside, and public schools that encourage girls to keep their “deliveries”.

Because this book takes place in Melody’s world, we see mainly her school and members and friends. As for her parents, well, here is a quote from them: “A free society cannot force girls to have children, but a free market can richly reward those that do.” The reader realizes before Melody that Melody is not so much her adoptive parents’ child but rather their economic investment. Her parents realized early on that teens would have value because of their fertility, and invested and acted accordingly. I wondered if they ever saw Melody as their child.

Bumped takes place over just a few days; the sequel is Thumped.

Opposing Viewpoints

The question of boys and reading is one that comes up from time to time, and always brings about strong reactions based both on the actual article in question and the personal experiences of those reading the article.

Take, for example, Boys and Reading: Is There Any Hope? by Robert Lipsyte at The New York Times. Lipsyte states his thesis: “author Jon Scieszka writes that boys “don’t feel comfortable exploring the emotions and feelings found in fiction. . . . Boys don’t have enough positive male role models for literacy. Because the majority of adults involved in kids’ reading are women, boys might not see reading as a masculine activity.” But I think it’s also about the books being published. Michael Cart, a past president of the Young Adult Library Services Association, agrees. “We need more good works of realistic fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, on- or ­offline, that invite boys to reflect on what kinds of men they want to become,” he told me. “In a commercially driven publishing environment, the emphasis is currently on young women.””

Some people got upset at what they viewed as a slam at both girls who read and the females in publishing and libraries and bookstores. Because then Lipsyte went on to say, “The current surge in children’s literature has been fueled by talented young female novelists fresh from M.F.A. programs who in earlier times would have been writing midlist adult fiction. Their novels are bought by female editors, stocked by female librarians and taught by female teachers.” 

Lipsyte noted a lack of books like in the good old days. Which, well, it’s easy to put together book lists to counter the lack of existing titles: Saundra Mitchell addressed this at The Problem is Not the Books and added a long list at And This is Why the Problem is Not the Books.

I confess; I wasn’t a fan of some of what Lipsyte said. But I’m also not of fan of gendering reading with boy books and girl books; I’ve seen girls get as happy about world record books as boys, and boys love Twilight. I’d much rather talk about books for those who want action, or quick reads, or emotional exploration, etc., than talking “boy” and “girl” books. I’m especially not a fan of statements that seem to imply that so-called girl books are “lesser” — written by those females who otherwise would be midlist authors  and of a lesser literary value: “the next spate of Y.A. fiction tended to be simplistic problem novels that read like after-school specials, and soon split along gender lines. Books with story lines about disease, divorce, death and dysfunction sold better for girls than did similar books for boys. The shift seemed to fundamentally alter the Y.A. landscape.”

A detailed response in that vein is NY Times to YA Publishing: Stop Being So Girly by Aja Romano at The Mary Sue. As the title shows, it goes into detail about gender; here’s a snippet: “Reticence on men’s part to read about girls isn’t some kind of inevitable byproduct of the inferiority of “women’s stories,” whatever those are. It’s the social upbringing that boys undergo that teaches them that anything women like is inherently inferior, just as it teaches women that if they enjoy the things that men like, they may not be real women.”

While Maureen Johnson did not blog about this particular article, a past post of hers is applicable: Sell the Girls. As she states, “So, we’re thinking about boys and girls and what they read. The assumption, as I understand it, is that females are flexible and accepting creatures who can read absolutely anything. We’re like acrobats. We can tie our legs over our heads. Bring it on. There is nothing we cannot handle. Boys, on the other hand, are much more delicately balanced. To ask them to read “girl” stories (whatever those might be) will cause the whole venture to fall apart.”

I’m not saying, take the adventure book away from the boy and make him read the romance or vice versa. I’m saying, adventure books aren’t boy books, they are adventure books. Romance books aren’t girl books, they are romance books. Girls, gasp, may want adventure books and not romance books. What are we saying to both boys and girls when we say from the start, adventure=boy and romance=girl?

I’m not denying that if we ask 100 boys and 100 girls to list their favorite books some titles that are popular on the boys list won’t be on the girls list and vice versa. However, that does not make those books boy or girl books. What such a list does is make things “easy” in that a person can say “book for twelve year old boy” rather than what that individual wants from a book. I’m also not denying that books and readers are complicated, but that’s part of my point — they are complicated. Much more complicated than “boys like xxx”.

To be honest, not everyone reacted the way I and others did. Some people were very much “this is a great article!” I’m not linking to those only because I saw that reaction mainly on Twitter or listservs; I think people are less inclined to blog agreement, anyway. Lipsyte does make valid points and I think it’s good to be aware of the need for a balanced collection and readers advisory that goes beyond one’s own personal likes and opinions. For example, let’s look real quick at booktalks. Some people insist that booktalks should only be about books the librarian likes, and I disagree, because then you get the favorites of grown up females (that is, the librarians) and that is not going to be a wide enough appeal for all the people in the classroom. My personal belief is that most librarians today realize that, and do a lot to make sure their collection and booktalks etc are balanced. An article like Lipsyte’s is a good reminder of the different things out there that appeal to different readers, and a need to keep those needs in mind.

If you have links to other reactions to the New York Times article, leave them in the comments, please! And also share your own thoughts and reactions.

Hurricane Irene

Down at the Jersey Shore, we’re getting prepared for Hurricane Irene!

While I live down the Shore, I am not in an area with either mandatory evacuation or an area prone to flooding. I’m not on the water.

We’re pretty much all prepared: full tank of gas, check. Extra cash? Check. Candles and flashlight, check. Outside furniture? Just one more table to be brought inside. Emergency bags packed just in case?  Check. Electronics fully charged? Check. Landline — yes, but since the phone itself requires electricity and is from the cable company, I’m not quite sure if that is going to be more reliable.

Any suggestions for what else I need?

Any book suggestions? Do you think it’s better to read about things like hurricanes, or read something escapist?

KidLitCon 2011 and RIF

KidLitCon and RIF have teamed up!

As Colleen Mondor explains at Chasing Ray, “What we decided was to shift things just a bit, both by moving away from publisher donated ARCs as raffle prizes and also toward a long term partnership with one organization. Ultimately what we came up with made sense in so many ways that in retrospect it was one of the easiest things we decided. I am delighted to announce that KidLit Con is now entering into a partnership with Reading Is Fundamental which we hope will extend for many years into the future and make a powerful difference in the lives of many.” This was also posted at the KidLitCon website.

At Rasco From RIF, Carol Rasco of RIF says : “Not so very long ago I received an email from Colleen Mondor of Chasing Ray; she is serving as a co-chair of the upcoming KidLit Con in Seattle. In the email Colleen shared in lieu of the usual closing banquet’s fundraising auction at KidLit Con, she and co-chair Jackie Parker-Robinson wished to have the attendees raise funds for RIF prior to arriving and as a long-term project as well. From that point plans have been made, and yesterday Colleen announced the debut effort in what will be a KidLit Con partnership with Reading Is Fundamental. To have a partnership with this incredible group know as “Kidlitosphere” is the ultimate endorsement for an organization with a mission like that of RIF; and for those of us affiliated with RIF, we are humbled and grateful for this new official partnership.”

As of August 23, Carol Rasco shared the current fundraising efforts at the KidLitCon website: “At this point the Kid Lit Con Fund at RIF stands at $1056! And that is in a very short period of time…applause, applause! I am so thankful on behalf the children and families who will get a new, free book to call their own because of your generosity! I noted on Friday night there were those making these gifts in honor of individuals and groups. Here is the list thus far of those gifts; please note all honor gifts but the first one have been given anonymously (for various reasons which we will certainly honor).” One of those anonymous donors had some nice things to say about me; I am touched and flattered. Thank you!

Review: Blink and Caution

Blink & Caution by Tim Wynne-Jones. Candlewick. 2011. BrillianceAudio. Narrated by MacLeod Andrews. 2011. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: Blink accidentally witnesses a crime — actually, a non-crime. Jack Niven, an important businessman, has been kidnapped, but Blink saw Niven with the so-called kidnappers and knows he not only went willingly; Niven was in charge, the boss. Homeless and living on the streets, Blink helps himself to the man’s smartphone and wallet and now has linked himself to the crime.

Caution has run away from her drug-dealing boyfriend, taking his stash of money and pot. Somehow, he keeps tracking her down.

Blink and Caution are both on the run. Their paths cross, their stories merge, and two broken teens begin to put together the pieces of their lives. 

The Good: Blink & Caution is told in alternating chapters. Blink’s chapters are told by a person talking to him, a step or two ahead of him: “You lean against the wall, exhausted from the act of holding yourself together. You got off at the wrong floor, my son — that’s all. The wrongest floor of all. You don’t know that yet, but you’re never far from that feeling.” I loved this way of storytelling; MacLeod Andrews, the narrator for the audiobook, brilliantly conveyed the tone of the person talking to Blink. (Andrews does such a stunning job with this book that I now want to listen to everything he’s narrated). Blink’s half of the story is one of mystery — who is Niven? what is happening? why did he fake a kidnapping? — and the unknown narrator adds to the feeling of suspense. Blink quickly finds himself in over his head, but he cannot stop himself. He cannot leave the mystery of Niven alone.

Caution’s story is both more basic and more heartbreaking. Oh, Blink has had a tough few years; his father left, his mother’s new husband is abusive, so Brent (known as Blink because he blinks frequently) is living on the streets. Caution (aka Kitty) ran away from home like Blink, but she ran away for different reason. Caution killed her brother, and yes it was an accident, but he’s still dead and the life she is now living is one built upon punishing herself for her crime.

Blink and Caution are two teens who fate has not treated well. Both deserve better than what life has given them. Caution, especially, has almost been broken by what she did. Almost . . .  because while she ran away, while she hooked up with a drug dealer, while she is now on the run for her life, she is on the run. She does want to live. Blink & Caution is about two broken people coming together and being made whole, but it’s two broken people who are ready to be made whole. Had their paths crossed earlier, it would not have been the right time in either of their lives. Together, they are stronger; together, they may be able to figure a way out of the mess Blink is in. Together, they may become strong enough to survive on their own.

Because I found myself caring so deeply about what happened to Blink and Caution. Because it hurt, knowing how deeply Caution was hurt by what she’d done. Because I wanted these two teens to connect, and once they connected, I wanted to see what they would do. Because this was one of the best audiobooks I’ve ever listened to. This is one of my Favorite Books Read in 2011.

Review: Stay With Me

Stay With Me by Paul Griffin. Dial Books, an imprint of Penguin. 2011. Review from ARC.

The Plot: Cece and Mack are fifteen when fate — in the form of Cece’s older brother, Tony — brings them together. They have a hundred and two days, from meeting to falling in love to fate bringing it to an end.

Cece is book smart, and while times may be tough she is part of a tight, loving family unit: her mother and her older brother. Mack is a drop out who can barely read and write, his mother left and his father’s a drunk, but he is both street smart and sweet. Opposites that complement and respect each other, they fall in love and plan a future. Mack does something, an action with horrible, permanent, consequences, and both have to face a future different than the one they’d planned.

The Good: Stay With Me broke my heart. Their story is told by both Cece and Mack, and the reader shares their feelings and thoughts and point of view. At first, it is tender, with the first fumbling of love. Cece thinks Mack doesn’t like her, Mack thinks Cece is too good for him. Mack’s home life is pretty horrendous, he’s already been arrested a time or two, but Tony sees more to him than “thug” and so, too, does Cece. Mack has a gift for training dogs, pit bulls especially, and his relationships with the dogs is beautiful. It’s a gift, the way he can connect with and train the most broken dog, but it is also a gift in that the dog gives Mack what he doesn’t get from people: love. Or, at least, what Mack thinks he doesn’t get because the reader sees that while his parents have let him down, others — Tony, Cece, and Vic, the owner of the restaurant where they all work — do love him. Mack just has a hard time seeing it and accepting it.

Mack, like his father before him, has a temper. It’s gotten him in trouble in the past, and in Stay With Me it will nearly destroy him.

Stay With Me is a romance; it’s as story of two teens who find each other; it’s about teens and families who only know financial struggle. Tony and Cece’s mother is a waitress; Tony and Cece have limited options, despite their talents and brains. Mack’s options, compounded by abandonment and learning disabilities, are even less. Mack and Cece connecting, falling in love, trusting each other — I know, I know, I’m overusing the word “sweet.” But it is! Sweet, however, is  not what this book is about. Stay With Me is about how, when the worst thing you can imagine happens, you pick yourself up and go forward because that’s the only option you have. It’s about the bad things that happen to good people. It’s about the bad things people do. What broke my heart is not Cece and Mack’s love; it is not what Mack did; it is how these two are then left alone, to crumble and die inside and then try to figure out how to reinvent a future without betraying the connection they had.

Pit bulls. I know nothing about pit bulls, but how adorable is that dog on the cover! By the end of Stay With Me, all I thought I knew about pit bulls turned out to be wrong. There is more to them than meets the eye, more than the bad press they get. Mack trains these dogs — not just pit bulls. He rescues the ones that have been abandoned. What I love about the pit bulls is that on the one hand, it’s a matter of fact, important part of the story. Mack has a talent with training dogs, and that shows a different side of him and may be the way for him to create some type of future. Griffin’s biography includes that his jobs have included dog trainer, and the knowledge and skill and heart needed to train dogs is lovingly shown. The readers learns more about both dog training and pit bulls. On the other hand, metaphor! Abused dogs that need to be rescued and loved and trained; an abused boy. Who will rescue Mack, who will love him, who will help him to become a man?

One final thing: the kissing in the rain scene? Loved it.

Review: It’s The First Day of School . . . Forever!

It’s The First Day of School . . . Forever! by R. L. Stine. Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan. 2011. Review copy from publisher. Middle grade.

The Plot: Artie, eleven, is nervous about his first day of sixth grade at Ardmore Middle School. From the moment his alarm rings and he falls out of bed, everything that could go wrong, goes wrong. Syrup in his hair, water splashed on the crotch of his pants, inadvertently getting the wrong people at school mad at him. As the day progresses, some of it is just weird, like the randomly numbered classrooms and having to get measured for books.

The next day begins, Artie’s alarm, goes off, he falls out of bed… “Again?” He thinks. Well, yes and no –he didn’t fall out of bed again, he fell out of bed the first time again. That horrible first day of school is on permanent repeat.

The Good: Every single thing a kid worries about happening on the first day of school happens to Artie, from locker mishaps to lunch missteps.

There are also some things kids don’t worry about. Like the possibility that their school is built on a graveyard. Or a principal that takes the side of the popular kids and makes threats that no adult should make to kids.

Poor Artie. He just wants to make a good impression, because not only is it the first day of school, it’s the first day at a new school. As the days repeat, he keeps trying to do it better: don’t stand near the puddle, don’t throw the ball at the back of the cool kid’s head. Avoiding one thing just brings about something worse. He hardly has any time to figure out what is going on.

I don’t want to give away the ending — but it’s delicious. Everything that didn’t make sense, that seemed scattered, falls into place, with an answer that is both satisfying and scary.

The kids who have been reading and rereading the tattered copies of Goosebumps will be pleased with this latest tale; and those who are being introduced to Stine for the first time are going to be asking for those older titles.

Just Read It

Everyone’s reading it. Come on, you read it, too!

Adults read books for many reasons, including what their peers read. When talking about kids, what about when eighth graders want to read that book the cool kids in high school are reading? And so on and so on and now the fifth graders want it, too.

What to do? Sometimes, the frustrations I read about this focus on that darn book, and if only the book didn’t have x or y or z it would be OK.

Pamela Dodson in the Huffington Post takes a different approach in But Mom, Everybody’s Reading It: A Guide to Kid’s Books and Peer Pressure: “parents of children in grades 3-5 complain of being harassed by their children to allow them to read books that were written for teens. Titles like Twilight, Hunger Games, and the later Harry Potter novels. These books were written for young adults who have the age and experiences to understand more mature themes and relationships and to process them accordingly. They were never intended for elementary school children.”

Does this mean every book should be written for a third grader?

No; Dodson explores the different ways for parents to handle the situation, including the fact that no matter what the parent does, the child is still going to want to read the book so will read it. Dodson recommends reading the book with the child: “By allowing the child to read the book and sharing that experience with them, you have created a win-win situation. The child wins the chance to read the desired book and gain peer parity (so important at that age). The parent wins the opportunity to share something their child values and to frame that experience. This is your opportunity to make certain the child’s questions are answered by a knowledgeable source and impart the values you want your child to come away with.”

Hat tip to Jen Robinson for pointing out this article.

Review: Sweetly

Sweetly by Jackson Pearce. Little, Brown. 2011. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Gretchen and her older brother, Ansel, are on the road, driving through South Carolina, when their car breaks down. Bad luck turns to good luck when they meet Sophia Kelly, owner of Kellys’ Chocolatier. Sophia needs some help around her house and store; she cannot pay much, but she can offer a roof over their heads. She also offers friendship.

Gretchen cannot believe their luck. The Kassel siblings have only known hard times and trouble: twelve years ago, Gretchen’s twin sister disappeared. Their mother died. Their father remarried, and then he died. Once Gretchen turned eighteen, their stepmother threw them out. After all that loss, the self-imposed isolation of grief, the warmth and welcome that Sophia offers is almost too good to be true.

It may be too good to be true. There are rumors about Sophia, whispers, linking her to teenage girls who have gone missing. Not missing, say some — just high school graduates eager to leave their small town. It’s not Sophia’s fault.

Gretchen believes in Sophia, because Gretchen knows what it is to be whispered about. Gretchen is convinced that the reason her sister went missing years ago is a witch took her. As Gretchen learns more about Sophia and the missing girls, she comes to a horrifying realization. Witches aren’t real . . . but werewolves are.

The Good: Sweetly is a companion to Pearce’s Sisters Red, a fairy tale retelling of Little Red Riding Hood that made the wolves werewolves and Little Red Riding Hood into an axe wielding werewolf hunter. Sweetly, for those of you not instantly suspicious by the sibling names of Ansel and Gretchen, is a retelling of Hansel and Gretel. As in Sisters Red, there are werewolves; and a main character, Samuel Reynolds, is a brother of Silas from Sisters Red. While reading Sisters Red gives the reader more knowledge of the werewolves (called Fenris), it’s not necessary to read it before reading this book, because while those readers may realize things like the significance of the color red, other readers are going to be saying “oh, so they’ve been taken in by a nice woman who makes candy? why, who in the original story is associated with candy . . . ” and put 2 and 2 together and, hopefully, not come up with 37.

I enjoyed the character of Gretchen, and her relationships with the other characters: her older brother, Ansel; their new friend, Sophia; and Samuel, one of the locals who is convinced that Sophia is linked to the disappearances of the local girls. I don’t want to give too much away about the plot, or, rather, give too much away about how Pearce tweaks the original tale, because part of the fun of a retelling is seeing what the author does with it. Pearce makes this retelling refreshing, new, and exciting by having the suspected witch, Sophia, be pretty and kind and likable; introducing werewolves; and making the children grown-ups.

Gretchen starts the book with little: she and her brother were shown the door by their stepmother the moment Gretchen turned 18. All their worldly goods are in one car, and that car just broke down. Sophia taking them in begins Gretchen’s journey of trusting others, of making friends, first Sophia, and, later, Samuel. What makes her suspicions of Sophia all the more heart-breaking is that Sophia has truly helped Gretchen and Ansel. Even then, though, Gretchen looks for ways to make sense of it all, to not lay blame without proof.

Then, there is the werewolves! Gretchen’s acceptance of their existence makes sense, as she both sees them in action and has always believed that something more was at work when her sister disappeared. As a child, she believed it was a witch; now, after talking to Samuel, she believes it was a werewolf. Either way, her response is so terrific I have to share it, spoilers be damned. Gretchen decides to learn to shoot; she decides she is not going to be passive, is not going to run away, is not going to pretend the big bad wolf doesn’t exist, is not going to lock her doors; she’s going to learn how to protect herself.

 One of the things I enjoyed about Sisters Red was the meaning behind many of the names used. Pearce has fun with names once again, and no, I’m not just talking Ansel is Hansel and Gretchen is Gretel. Kassel, their last name, sounds like “castle” and castles are often in fairy tales. More importantly Kassel is also a town in Germany — not just any town, but the town where the Brothers Grimm lived. Abigail, the name of a child that was lost, means “father’s joy” and any joy that family had was lost with the child. Sophia means “wisdom,” and I’ll leave it to the reader to determine how meaningful that name is. Naida means “water nymph,” and that character has a tie to the ocean.

The next book in this sequence is Fathomless,  and will modernize The Little Mermaid.