Monday, 4 April 2011

review: Rose Sees Red

by Cecil Castellucci
Scholastic Press, 2010
young adult historical
book received from publisher (thank you!)


It's the 1980s, and the NYC neighbourhood Rose lives in is constantly surrounded by different agents from different countries, thanks to the USSR base right next door. Actually, right next door is a Russian family with a girl, Yrena, who does ballet, same as Rose. Only Rose is sure Yrena's much better than her--Rose is sure everyone's better than her. They meet for the first time when Yrena sneaks into Rose's bedroom, and together they head out into the heart of New York City. At parties, at Parliaments and at protests alike, Rose and Yrena discover how friendship bridges the chasms that war opens.
The cover:

I like the single red rose standing out against the vines and the NYC skyline, but I'm thinking they could've done that with the title, too -- maybe keep "Rose Sees" in navy blue or black, and then make "Red" red. As well, the skyline could've been a more distinct colour, like navy blue or even brown; a whole cover of gray is a little monotonous.

The book:

In the beginning, Rose is not a pleasant character. Her thoughts are black, in her own words, and she continually puts herself down when dancing. As well, it's clear through her memories that her former best friend, Daisy, was a b-word-that-rhymes-with-witch. Rose, however, seems oblivious to the fact. Thankfully, she redeems herself once actually out and about the night with Yrena and the triplets Callisto, Caitlin and Caleb. She has some deep thoughts concerning friendship, the wars and liberty, but it's really the other characters who shine: Yrena, Maurice (a fellow ballerina, but male) and Caleb, who develops to become Rose's love interest:

[Yrena and Caleb are arguing over how Russians feel things, and Americans are all on the surface.]
"You can't see into my heart," Caleb said.
Caleb was looking at me with an intensity that made me buzz. He was wired up, and that thing I felt growing between us just kept buzzing louder. I wanted to take his hand. I wanted to just take it and hold it and tell him that I loved the way he argued.
The writing here (the use of Caleb twice in two sentences, Rose's use of "and"s and "just"s) reflect Cecil Castellucci's style, and it works very eloquently, especially so (in my opinion) in the above quoted paragraph. The themes of peace and war help the whole novel feel uplifting and hopeful; the teens each express wishes for harmony, but at times, Rose's interior monologue is too poetic. Dance as a motif develops her character and gives her the self-esteem lacking in the beginning. Her parents are introduced too briefly at the start to truly make an impact at the end, but the brother, Todd, is integrated neatly.

I thought Rose Sees Red would be a night of teens being teens, e.g. getting drunk, getting stoned, getting high... I'm glad it wasn't.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5