Well, Mary is lost. Mary is lost in the story of Little Red Riding Hood, and that is a cruel and murderous story. She’s put on the red hood and met the Wolf. When she gives in to her Wolf’s temptations, she will die. That’s how the story goes, after all.
Unfortunately for the story and unfortunately for the Wolf, this Little Red Riding Hood is Mary Stuart, and she is the most stubborn and contrary twelve year old the world has ever known.
Forget the Wolf’s temptations, forget the advice of the talking rat trying to save her – she will kick her way through every myth and fairy tale ever told until she finds a way to get out of this alive. Her own way, and no one else’s.
Enjoy the other titles by Richard Roberts:
– Sweet Dreams are Made of Teeth
– Wild Children
Two things about me you should know: I collect free and cheap books like birds pecking for worms the morning after it rains. (Quite Contrary was free for a few days. If you have Kindle Unlimited, you can borrow it for free!) And I (shamefully) judge books by their covers. (At least initially.) Covers can tell you many things. Almost nude bodies embracing tell you it’s a romance. Spaceships and planets tell you it’s scifi. Quite Contrary lends itself to a younger crowd. The font, the spotlight on the cloaked almost comical figure in the center screams middle grade adventure. Then you read the blurb. (Another tidbit you didn’t ask for: I’ve done research papers and a thesis on origins and mutations of fairy tales.) I had to read this book.
Sometimes I find in myself the deep-seated desire to do exactly the opposite of what everyone else is doing. It’s something like taking the road less traveled. It appeals to me. Skimming through the reviews for this book, there are those who love it and those who hate it. There’s a good mix. (I tend to read more of the ones who hate it, though.) The reviews added just the right touch to put Quite Contrary at the head of my Kindle carousel.
I also have a tendency to pick up and put down tons of books before I finish one. This one, while not being a page turning glorious time suck, is the one that drew me every time I picked up my Kindle. Even while collecting more books, I still made sure that I could easily find this one. No, it didn’t call to me while living mundanely. No, I wasn’t riveted and fanatically attached until the very end. But I guarantee you that every spare moment I had, I managed to read a page or two.
The reviews say that Mary does not act like a 12 year old. The reviews say she’s more crass than contrary. (Of course, being a crass 12 year old is contrary to our expectations, so she remains in character perfectly.) Having three kids and being around this age group rather frequently, there is nothing shocking here, even with the language. By the time they get into middle school, kids cuss more than those of us in the military. They’ve heard these words from media and friends and even parents. The opportunity here, when my daughter reads this, is to show that cussing really doesn’t do anything for you. It doesn’t help you think things through. It offends more than it impresses. And more importantly: a promise is a promise. (You’ll see when you get there.) Guess what: those are two life lessons we should definitely expose to our kiddos.
Not even 35% into the book, I can see character growth. I can see that this little 12 year old recognizes bits of herself that many adults never admit to. So yes, in that way, she does act a little older. Aside from doing the exact opposite of what is expected, her redeeming qualities really begin to shine blindingly bright halfway through.
Right about at this point, I started realizing that this is more than just a story. It is a road less travelled. We don’t want to admit what some young kids are going through these days. We tend to put a Happily Ever After spin on every tortured news story, if only in our heads. I’ve said this before in only a couple of a reviews, but truth is what a good writer strives to give us. Truth is what I see here. Truth sometimes offends. Truth sometimes shows us what we don’t want to see.
The Grimms simply put on paper the stories commonly told at the time. Even their sensibilities were put to the test as they edited several times before letting it go. Most people would be surprised at what the Grimms took out of their stories. But the stories told to kids were supposed to teach. They learned to stay out of the Black Forest. They learned to be kind to siblings. They learned that strange old women weren’t always nice.
The one thing Mary is consistent about is doing the exact opposite of the expected. Drop another fairy tale character into this book and the story would be over at first meeting the Wolf. Hell, drop a sensitive sheltered kid in the story and they wouldn’t make it through hearing Rat-in-Boots speak the first time. We’d find them in the crawl space crying and sucking their thumb. Even though Mary is scared and at times terrified, she still uses her brain and sometimes her heart.
I think that by sugar-coating everything we are doing a great disservice to children. They are smarter than we think. They are stronger than we think. And if we don’t properly teach them and warn them about how the world works, they will end up entitled and gullible. I would rather my kiddos kick someone that gave them the creeps and got too close than to smile, get to know them, take their hand and be led easily to the pedi-van. We keep saying, “You never know it this day and age, who’s the pedophile and who’s the kind stranger.” But our day really isn’t any different than when the Grimms wrote down those tales. We just have the advantage of instantaneous news.
I think the short-lived gore factor is more concerning than the strong language. Mr. Roberts description of the gore certainly gave Mary nightmares. It may be too gruesome for those with delicate sensibilities. Of course, those people would have put the book down long before they got to that part.
Quite Contrary is one of the few well written, more than entertaining, retellings of old stories I have seen. Mary is a deeper character than you may think if you stop when she goes off on a swearing stream early in the story. I’ve seen her vulnerable like a little girl and self-sacrificing on many occasions where not every adult would be. The conclusion is a self-realization, the climax of her growth.
While I described it to my husband as Alice in Wonderland on crack instead of opium, the story itself is a wild, enjoyable ride. You really don’t know what’s coming next.