Author: Elana K. Arnold
Length: 8 hours
Narrator: January LaVoy
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Original Publication Date: 2020
Genre(s): Young adult, Fantasy, Retelling
It’s homecoming night, and Bisou Martel, at sixteen years old, finally has her first period. But it couldn’t have come at a more awkward time… Escaping into the woods, she just wants to be alone. But alone she is not. She’s attacked by a wolf, but finds herself stronger than ever, able to best the beast and kill it. But when a classmate’s body turns up in those very same woods the next day, Bisou has a lot of questions…
I really wasn’t sure if I wanted to read this book. I was immediately captivated by the gorgeous cover, but that doesn’t always mean it’s a good book (I’m looking at YOU, Red Queen…you and your betraying cover…). I do enjoy a good retelling, though, so I went ahead and borrowed it on audio. The novel is divided into three parts and told in second-person POV, which immediately threw me off and, to be honest, made me want to stop reading the book. Second-person is risky, and though I eventually got used to it halfway through, it really distracted me early on and did not help my impression of the novel.
“You” are Bisou, a sixteen-year-old girl who lives with her grandmother in Washington. Bisou doesn’t really have many friends, other than her boyfriend James’s friends by proxy. Without spoiling anything, there’s not a whole lot I can say about the story. I wasn’t captivated by the writing, nor by the plot itself, but it was alright. Nothing extraordinary, but it was interesting enough to keep me reading instead of DNFing, which I did think about for the first few chapters. The story did pick up, and though it was enjoyable, I feel like I wouldn’t have missed out on anything had I not read it.
This novel is ultra-feminist. All the main characters are women who are all vocal about women’s rights and female empowerment. Also, a major plot device turns out to be menstruation, a topic usually shied away from. Bisou’s period is described in full detail—very explicit. I liked that the author was honest about menstruation in all its gory glory. There’s also a few explicit sex scenes in this novel, which I discovered is a big reason many people think this book shouldn’t be classified as “YA,” in addition to blood/gore. Personally, I didn’t think, period aside, the gore was very explicit. Maybe I’m just used to it, but it didn’t feel that harrowing. Regarding the sex scenes, I felt they were extremely clinical rather than erotic. Like, “he put his penis into my vagina” kind of language. Sex is just as honest as menstruation, and teenagers have sex. The author goes into detail, but I wouldn’t say it’s erotica or anything. I definitely would still classify this as YA. Just be wary that it’s a YA for mature audiences, and not for the easily squeamish.
I think the most realistic thing about this novel (other than the period and sex scenes) is the male dialogue. “Men are wolves,” as the grandmother is known for saying. And they are. Every woman, myself included, has most likely been sexually harassed, assaulted, or worse at least once in their life. Men can be wolves. But there are men who aren’t wolves. And that’s why I hate man-haters. I read a few reviews calling this book “man-hating” and saying that the message this story conveyed is that men should be killed (???). Um, I’m not really sure that was the message. I think men being wolves was a metaphor, and I think the author was more trying to promote accountability, not murder. Murder the patriarchy, maybe. Also, if the author was conveying that all men suck, and that they should die for it, I’m pretty sure she would have made a specific male character turn against Bisou in the end. Just sayin’.
Though I didn’t love this novel, I did enjoy it. It definitely gets better as the story goes on, and I grew to like Bisou and her gal pals. I recommend it if you’re into fairytale retellings (though this one is loose), feminist YA, or dark fantasy.