Wednesday, February 05, 2020

What Red Was by Rosie Price

Trigger Warning: Rape

Time flatlined; she knew then what red was. She was on Zara's bed, she saw the ribbon in [his] collar. But this red was not a colour, a warning sign or provocation, the bull's rag; no, red was the filter through which she apprehended everything; it collapsed the time between her present and that moment that refused to remain in her past, so that her whole being, from the dilation of her pupils to the rhythm of her breath and the ice in her chest, recalibrated to respond to the sign of the world through it. And she saw then that if she had been so wrong about what a colour could be, then there was little about the world that she had understood correctly. 

~fr. p. 111 of Advance Reader Copy, What Red Was -- some changes may have been made to the final print version, which was released in August of 2019

What Red Was by Rosie Price is a story of a friendship, trauma, and family dynamics as well as the aftermath of the trauma. Kate and Max become lifelong friends. But, when Kate becomes the victim of a violent crime while visiting Max's family, the trauma invades every corner of her life and becomes a part of who she is. Will she ever feel whole again?

I loved the way What Red Was began. Kate is a person with an average background and a mother she wants to escape while Max is very wrapped up in family and he comes from a fabulously wealthy background but is very casual about it. They meet when Max is locked out of his room in what I presume is a co-ed dorm, Max knocking on the door to ask for help in nothing but a towel.

Kate has just moved to university and she's lonely; Max is vivacious and cheerful. She loans him some of her clothing to run across campus for a duplicate key and when he returns with her clothing, they talk. The friendship is comfortable but never romantic. Eventually, Kate finds out that Max has casually left out the information that his mother is a very famous filmmaker, but when Kate meets the family she finds they're relaxed and nonjudgmental; it's clear where he got his personality. If Max likes Kate, she's part of the family, too. Max's family does have a complication involving his grandmother, which is kind of a secondary storyline but important.

I'm not quite sure where I got What Red Was, but I think a publicist contacted me (as opposed to it being a book that I "won" via Shelf Awareness). It fell to the back burner when I was forced to take time off — and I was already behind, so I missed reading and reviewing by the August, 2019 release — but I'm glad I was able to finally get to it. My thanks to Hogarth and whoever sent the copy my way.

Recommended - While I didn't feel like What Red Was was wrapped up in a very satisfying way, I found the story so compelling that it was almost impossible to put down. I think the author did a particularly great job of showing how deep trauma runs, how difficult it can be to get help or even speak about what's happened, how the way people react (both to experiencing trauma and being told about it by someone who has experienced it and needs help) is not consistent in any way, and how family dynamics can be confusing, wonderful, or awful.

My biggest problem with the book (besides the ending) was the way Max became heavily involved in drugs and alcohol, mostly because he started hanging out with the wrong guy. But, at the same time it appeared that he was ignoring how Kate was falling apart, I had to wonder (and I think this was implied, if not overtly stated) whether Max was, in fact, so close to Kate that he picked up on her trauma and turned away because he couldn't face the obvious fact that someone he deeply cared for was in trouble. I have seen this happen so while I hated that part of the storyline, I also thought it rang true in its own way.

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  1. It sounds interesting, so I put it on reserve at my library.


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