Published by Balzer + Bray (2.25.2020)
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
Format: eBook, 368 pages
You are alone in the woods, seen only by the unblinking yellow moon. Your hands are empty. You are nearly naked.
And the wolf is angry.
Since her grandmother became her caretaker when she was four years old, Bisou Martel has lived a quiet life in a little house in Seattle. She’s kept mostly to herself. She’s been good. But then comes the night of homecoming, when she finds herself running for her life over roots and between trees, a fury of claws and teeth behind her. A wolf attacks. Bisou fights back. A new moon rises. And with it, questions. About the blood in Bisou’s past and on her hands as she stumbles home. About broken boys and vicious wolves. About girls lost in the woods—frightened, but not alone.
THIS BOOK IS NOT YA. It is labeled as such, but contains sexual and mature content.
Content warning: Sexual assault/violence/harassment, sexual content, graphic menstruation
Sometimes boys become wolves, you know.
Elana K. Arnold seems to have a penchant for making her readers uncomfortable in a powerful way. She doesn’t shy away from bringing those uncomfortable, yet important, topics to light. Just like with Damsel, many people are going to hate this story. It’s hard to read, and it’s definitely going to make you uncomfortable. But that is exactly the point. Arnold presents hard to face topics and forces you to stare them in the face.
I’m going to warn you – in the beginning there is some very in depth, very real depiction of menstruation. In gory detail. For us ladies, it’s nothing we haven’t dealt with. I’m not sure how a male would handle reading it, though. Honestly, some girls won’t want to read it, either. We already know how it works, we don’t particularly need to read about it. I’ll admit that it was almost too much for me, because it kept going on and on in the beginning. But, if you just push through the bloody menstrual talk, it gets better!
Maybe this is why people make up fables and myths and fairy tales: to fill in gaps. To answer unanswerable questions. To shelter their fears, and their hopes as well. And to connect with one another in the only way there is, in sharing their story.
This book is a very loose retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. It’s pretty much nothing like the original except for having wolves, but there’s a few nods to the original; such as Bijou wearing a red hooded sweatshirt, and certain phrases like “over the river and through the woods” and “who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?” I loved how this book blended fairytales in a modern retelling with real life issues. It was really interesting that the wolves came around with Bijou’s cycle, and how her senses were heightened during the cycles so she could basically hunt the wolves. Very unique concept!
One of my favorite things about this book is the writing. I rarely ever see books written in second person, and not many authors can pull it off. Arnold does, and her prose is stunning!
Then the snow came, the hush and rush of winter. It fell with the dense weight of sleep, covering all your tracks. Tree branches curtsied with the white weight upon them. Shhh, said the winter, the quiet, shining winter.
People aren’t pastries, divisible only into quantifiable sections. Maybe they are more like sourdough – indefinitely full of potential, able to share again and again, only to rise and grow and fill each space.
The line about snow just really resonated with me for some reason! It made me want to crawl into the pages! I just love the imagery. Something else I loved about this book was the sense of family and friendship it had going between the main characters. I absolutely adore non-catty, genuine, supportive female friendships in books. It’s so refreshing! I loved that Bijou, Maggie, and Keisha supported each other and had each other’s back no matter what; and how they became a tight knit family along with Bijou’s Mémé.
You love them so much that you feel you might break. What a risk it is, loving. I will do anything, you vow, anything to keep them safe.
There’s also a very beautiful and consensual relationship between Bijou and her boyfriend, which I also enjoyed seeing! The actual romance really didn’t do anything for me because I couldn’t connect to it (I couldn’t really connect with any of the characters, honestly), but I loved that there was no toxicity in the main relationships.
Down to the nitty gritty: This book tackles rape culture and toxic masculinity head on. It’s very thought provoking! It takes a look at gender roles and how girls are supposed to present themselves a certain way, yet the same rules don’t apply for boys; the whole “boys will be boys” excuse for certain behavior that girls aren’t held to. How when a girl gets raped, often times she somehow gets blamed for it – she was asking for it, she wanted attention, she was wearing the wrong clothes, her skirt was too short, she was too this, too that. Victim blaming.
Later I learned that she had a bad reputation – she was a drinker, they said, and had a liking for short skirts and halter tops. She liked men, they said – emphasis on “men”, not boys.
Nothing was said of the fact that “men” obviously liked her, too.
There’s a part where Maggie starts getting harassed – used nasty condoms in her bag, unsolicited dick pics, slut shaming, and other gross sexual harassment – and the boy’s father says that if his kid even did it, “where’s the real harm?” because it was “just a couple of silly pranks.” It made me angry.
“But are you telling guys how to not harm girls? It’s one thing to tell a girl how not to get raped or harassed – is anyone telling the guys not to rape us or harass us?”
“It is not your job to make boys happy.”
Terrible things happen every day, all the time, all across the globe, to women and to girls. I could not stop them all from happening. I could barely stop a fraction of them from happening. Whatever I did, whatever power I had, it was just a drop. But it was my drop, you see? It was not nothing. To the people I saved, to the wolves I killed – it was everything.
There’s a lot of feminist rage and righteousness in this book, and I liked it a lot. Especially the empowering quotes above. However, what I did not condone was the message that murdering in revenge was okay. It was satisfying, sure, but probably not the right message to send.
Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf? Not me. Fuck the wolf.
Writing style: 4.5/5
Overall rating: 3.5/5