Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses
by Ron Koertge; illus. by Andrea Dezsö
High School Candlewick 88 pp.
7/12 978-0-7636-4406-2 $19.99
A much-honored poet and novelist retells, in free verse and from various points of view, twenty-three familiar tales (mostly Grimm, Andersen, and Perrault). With a contemporary sensibility and voice, Koertge pitches directly to teenagers. Beauty’s Beast, though allowing that “her love…transformed me,” is still nostalgic for the time when his teeth were fangs and Beauty “almost wanted / me to break her neck and open her / up like a purse.” For the Ugly Duckling, “Grief is a street he skates down”; the swans, surrogate parents, beg, “Please don’t go away like / that again. We were worried sick.” There are several eager risk takers here, like the queen who outwits Rumpelstiltskin, then exits in a red cape, seeking a wolf. A few stories later, Red Riding Hood’s condescending account to her mother is a perfect parody: “I’m into danger, / okay? What? You said to tell you the truth and be, like, frank.” It’s also a swell mix of the comical, concrete, and macabre: “Anyway, it’s weird / inside a wolf, all hot and moist but no worse than flying / coach to Newark.” Dezsö’s choice of cut-paper illustrations is brilliant, a nod to Hans C. Andersen’s skill in that medium despite the radically different tone. Her stark silhouettes are peculiarly appropriate to such gruesome scenes as “The Robber Bridegroom” dismembering a bride, though the lurid gore is in a comfortably distancing black and white. Need to grab a restive class’s attention? Seek no further. And take note: “Wolf ” has the last word: “This is our forest…Perfect again when all your kind is dead.”