Saturday, February 25, 2012

Review: Ryder by Greta Maloney

I downloaded this oh, say, ten seconds after I first heard about it. I had no idea prior to receiving an e-mail that Greta was planning to publish something. But as has been the case before, the moment one of my friends does publish something I have to read it. I have to weigh in. As a fellow writer, I feel like there is no better I can do then to read their creation and share what I think.

Well, this certainly went beyond that. I love fairy tale retellings. Little Red Riding Hood has certainly been done before, but it's not the most common story chosen. (That honor tends to go to the princess stories -- Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, etc.) Not to mention the fact that this looked like it was going to have an absolutely brilliant trio of twists. (1) Riding hood became Ryder -- a boy. (2) The wolf is a fourteen year old girl, and she and Ryder fall in love. (3) Oh yes, I should mention she's a werewolf, too. Can you see why I was so anxious to dive in? Not your mother's fairy tale, is it?

Long story short, how could I not read this? It's the type of story I would have read regardless. I want to make that abundantly clear. Regardless of who something is written by, either I can pay attention, I want to keep going, I am enchanted, entranced, enthralled. Or I am not. With regard to Ryder, I absolutely could not put this down. If I hadn't been tired last night I likely would have finished it in one sitting. Read on to hear my thoughts on this beautifully written and unique take on a timeless tale...

The Plot: (Summary from GoodReads)
Everyone has a secret.
You're lying if you don't.
Fourteen year old Piper has tried to keep her secret hidden.
Everyone who finds out always winds up dead.
Only the man in the dark suit knows the truth.
A man she only met once.
The man who made her what she is today.
The man who bit her.
But that's all about to change.

Piper Glendale is on the run from the moon as her secret Sister Wolf wars with her. Fighting for control, Piper tries to keep her buried deep inside. But sometimes her sister breaks free.

Escaping from an institution, The Sister Wolf claws her way out. On the run her powerful body runs dry. The sun has finally risen. Piper has regained control.

Awaking in a cemetery, she prowls through the grave stones in search for food and shelter. Overlooking a hill, Piper sees a boy. A boy who is about to change her life. A boy in a faded red hood.

Based on the beloved children's classic Little Red Riding Hood, "Ryder" is a modern retelling with a twist.

The first thing that I want to say, and I'm going to get to it right away since it's right there in the summary, is that I thought the blend of extremely descriptive and vividly image driven writing paired very well with the random sprinklings of freeform poetry that were used throughout the book. The writing style chosen for Ryder felt fresh and different, and was always used to enhance what the characters were experiencing; never to simply draw attention to itself. It caught me off guard at first, but as I made my way through the book it blended in very well.

Another thing that stood out was that the aspect of Little Red Riding Hood which Greta chose to keep was the relative sense of poverty that the story evokes when compared to many other fairy tales. So often in fairy tales (once again mainly refering to the princess ones, I suppose) we see characters surrounded by a setting of great splendor. This is also often the case in YA love stories. Ryder deals with a homeless girl who has a wolf living within her, itching to break free under the strain of the full moon, and a boy and his grandmother who are barely getting by. At the same time, though, I feel that Greta did a great job of showing that despite the issues that might make their life seem imperfect, she also showed that regardless of this fact, they still had something worth fighting for. I connected deeply with Ryder and Piper and I genuinely wanted to see them happy.

I liked the blend between the dull grays of a very stark reality that most would not instantly want to inhabit blended against a very sinister magic that seemed to merely be counting down the hours to Piper's demise. There was no fairy godmother here who was going to make everything magically better for these two regardless of what they did. There was also no woodsman who was going to come by and make their problems disappear. Red Riding Hood, by it's own nature, is a passive fairy tale and I think that Greta did a great job of turning this on it's head. If her characters wanted to survive they would have to make that happen for themselves.

The Characters:

Piper was incredibly intriguing. One one hand, she is a fourteen year old girl, homeless and wracked with guilt over the deaths of her parents. On the other she is a werewolf, possessing a dual nature that makes her capable of changing her form under the light of the full moon. She struggles with the duality of what she is. She questions where she ends and her Sister Wolf begins. While she is ultimately a heroic figure, at times I could not help feeling that this was what it might be like to see the events of Frankenstein from the point of view of the Creature, or of The Tempest through Caliban's eyes. Every story needs some form of antagonist, some opposition or conflict that drives the plot. While Piper's Sister Wolf was not the only issue in the book, she is a situation that is far closer to home then most people -- real or fictional -- will ever get to their personal demons. 

Ryder takes the basic concept of Riding Hood and basically makes it explode. Aside from a certain amount of innocence and trust and a red hood, the role is very much open for interpretation. Greta took hold of this and ran with it. Where Red Riding Hood is a very basically constructed character (as most storybook characters are) Ryder was deep and complex. While he did not have something living inside of him like Piper did, he had his own struggles, his own past issues that he had to deal with, that made him real and memorable. The grimly realistic and mundane nature of Ryder's issues contrasted beautifully with the more darkly whimsical nature of the things that Piper faced. I think that gave the book a very balanced pace and a very stark feeling, making it a little frightening in both a supernatural way and in a way that reminds us that this world is not always a pretty place. 

Marti, Ryder's grandma, was also well fleshed out. I have a feeling she knew that Piper's life was not easy and that she was doing her best to help even if she didn't simply take Piper under her roof. (You must realize that her circumstances would not allow that, and that it would have broken the symbolism of the source material. The fact that Piper either snuck in or was brought in by Ryder is very important.) I really enjoyed the story of how she met her husband; it added a layer to her character and because of something related to it became important to the overall plot. 

The Romance: 

As with most fairy tales, the love and attraction between the main characters came quickly and easily. That was fine with me, because the question of when would he love her was never the real issue. Rather, it was at first would he continue to love her after knowing the truth, and then would he survive loving her once that decision had been made. 

Now, sifting all of those questions that center around Piper's issues aside, I also liked the fact that we got to see a very clear picture of what life would be like for these two if they could get past the problems that life was throwing at them. This story took place over the span of several months so we got a clear image of these two characters not only growing together, but also of the fact that they had staying power outside of the supernatural issues that could have separated them. People don't need to have a werewolf inside to have trouble in the love department. The fact that Ryder and Piper wanted to be together, period, was really important. And I think Greta did a good job at making their feelings for each other feel sincere and natural. 

In General: 

I know that I have already given this book praise for its vivid descriptions. I also want to take a moment to tell you that these can be gory, shocking and quite horrific. This did not overly bother me, but not everyone is the same and since this stood out to me that tells me it is something I should make sure people are aware of when they pick this book up. The way that the story is written is definitely to it's benefit. But it is what it is, if you get what I am saying. 

If you enjoy fairy tale retellings, beautiful writing or werewolves then you must read Ryder. It's gripping, it's original, and it will stick with you. 


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