Initial reaction: Extraordinarily cliche and cheese, but parts of it managed to be entertaining. I didn't love it or hate it, but I think it could've established the satire much better than what it did for the themes it wanted to touch on. And there was a part of me that thought Felicity could've stepped up to the plate far more than she did.
Ooh, what to say about Alison Cherry's "Red"? I'll admit that I was actually curious to read the galley for this title for a long time. The cover I thought was awesome and I thought it'd be an interesting, constructive portrayal of a redheaded society with some new thoughts to share in the mix. But upon reading the book, I couldn't help but be thrown by exactly how...weird this whole book came across. It's a parody, goodness knows I knew it was a parody, but it seemed on the side of overdoing the thematic to the point where I wanted to facepalm several times. Mother's name is Ginger? Character's name is Felicity? The mayor's name is Redding? There's red flowers everywhere? This is supposed to be a town where redheads are supposed to flourish compared to the outside world, but end up running the show and kicking everyone else aside in the process?
In my head I kept repeating the song from "Alice in Wonderland" because it seemed so silly. A few snippets from that:
"Painting the roses red
We're painting the roses red
Oh, pardon me
But Mister Three
Why must you paint them red?
Huh? Oh! Well, the fact is, Miss
We planted the white roses by mistake
The Queen she likes 'em red
If she saw white instead
She'd raise a fuss
And each of us
Would quickly lose his head
Since this is the part we dread
We're painting the roses red."
And then the queen finds the roses and is like "WHO'S BEEN PAINTING MY ROSES RED?" You expect the fallout to be swift from that point.
Similar situation here: Felicity St. John only pretends that she's a redhead as part of a lifelong ambition to follow in her mother's footsteps and become the town's Miss Scarlet in a beauty pageant, get the prize money, pay for all the years of training she's accumulated through dance classes and the like, when all she wants to do is be recognized for her art. But she's really a "strawbie," faking it until she makes it, has to color her hair a darker shade in secret in order to keep up the facade. The Mayor and others know there's someone coloring redheads, but they don't know who or where, and are none too happy about it.
If Felicity's discovered, as well as the salon she goes to, she'll lose her head standing in town. The environment is intentionally secluded and rampant with its biases over its redheaded population, with non-redheads being socially shunned, and "strawbies" not counted as real redheads. All of it seems quite silly to the eye of the beholder, coming across as a children's/MG-like dystopia, with a self-absorbed protagonist vying to be queen bee and being less than true to herself. I definitely figure at one point "Meh, I'm probably not going to identify with Felicity at all, so I'm just going to read onward because there's bound to be fallout somewhere in this."
And there is, because someone discovers her secret. Let the blackmail games begin.
Only the book doesn't really waste time revealing the blackmailer, because by nature of the conflict of interest and role alone, you can guess who it is. But you can't make head for tails of her motivations, and that's a problem. You'd think it's because she simply hates redheads and their power in this town, and it all feels like a petty power struggle, with Felicity in the middle getting shafted by friends, boyfriend, family (the mother is horrible), all in the name of keeping up the charade until Felicity decides she can't take it anymore.
This book feels like it's trying to be Pretty Little Liars meets Mean Girls, but isn't sharp enough, or even astute enough - to pull that combination off. And it's certainly no Libba Bray's "Beauty Queens" because the execution of humor isn't nearly as on point. I'm not saying it wasn't a good idea, even if this did end up being YA instead of something like a children's/MG story. But it was so darned predictable. It wasn't fun on a collective note as much as it was hand holding. Parts of the narrative I found had insinuations of fun in it, but for the most part - it was cheese with a heroine who was clueless in not even an alluring way. I think the appeal in this novel stands as to whether or not you can handle that cheese and follow it anyway. Sometimes I could, and yeah, I liked moments such as when the MC connected with art student Jonathan just for the sake of the character having the chance to be herself and break from the petty games. But when the moment of truth comes and Felicity's meant to step up to the plate to end all the petty games? She...takes the indulgent route, riding off with her lover into the sunset off towards her dreams.
And here comes the point where I have the same problem with this novel as I had with Jessi Kirby's "Golden" - things don't work that conveniently. It almost shortchanges the concept of dealing with the prejudices that are rampant in this town. Maybe Felicity couldn't have taken down the town in a day or even in a single moment, but she could've done more than that.
I know this is supposed to be some parallel in that Felicity's leaving this town and its petty prejudices behind, choosing her own happiness. She wants to go do her own thing and rise above the petty power games, she accepts that she's no longer lying to herself or anyone else. But I'll admit I was expecting more.
Granted, there's something of a "Scrooge awakening" moment when Felicity realizes the situation of her blackmailer and that person's family and ultimately what that person is trying to do. But instead of it coming across as a respectable "I'm passing the torch to you, letting you do your thing because the expose needs to be done, and the take down of this terrible town can be done once and for all" - it comes across like Felicity's saying "Okay, you can handle it, I'm just going to go...k'Bye!"
*hangs head* And that's what ruined the intention of the book. I saw what it was trying to do, but nope. Felicity may be more aware, but her actions still come across as self-indulgent.
What could've been done alternatively? If Felicity had taken some responsibility, teamed up with former blackmailer and did the expose together, that probably would've made it better. Probably. I'm not saying that it would've taken the cheese of the piece out, but it would've made it more fulfilling of a narrative.
In other news, I laughed so hard at some of the poetry in this book. At least it intended itself to be bad, something like a "Bring it On" moment, but I just want to cite Cassie's pageant poem to end this review on:
“Yeah, I’m a diva,
don’t try to pretend like I’m not.
You might not like my sassy attitude,
but you definitely think I’m hot.
Yeah, I know I look good,
my makeup takes me an hour.
But that doesn’t mean I’m not tough and badass;
I am totally about girl power
Yeah, I’ve got mad skills, too.
You’ll see what I mean.
When you see me strut my stuff,
with jealousy you will turn green
Yeah, I’m the greatest one here.
I won’t go off on a tangent,
but I’m gonna crush my competition
and win this pa-pa-pageant."
At least that performance was meant to be bad, with all the impact of crickets chirping, but...cheese! I guess it could be worse. It could be "Silent Echo: A Siren's Tale."
I got that this narrative didn't want to take itself too seriously in spaces. The unfortunate thing is that in the moments that mattered, it didn't take itself seriously enough. So I'm middle of the road on it. Didn't hate it for intention and some cheese moments, but didn't like it because of the nature of some of that cheese and that it could've been far more astute of a parody with its respective messaging.
Overall score: 2.5/5 stars
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Random House BFYR.