Review: Saving Red by Sonya Sones

Quick review for a quick read. “Saving Red” was written entirely in verse, something that one would find similar to authors like Ellen Hopkins who write YA fiction in verse that deals with tough subjects. However, Sonya Sones’s “Saving Red” is a much lighter toned novel than Hopkins’ works despite its multiple heavy subjects (drug usage by a parent, sexual taunts, topics dealing with PTSD and mental illness – bipolar disorder). I almost want to say that the lightly handed way that these subjects are dealt with in this novel make it seem like it’s for a younger audience, but the subject matters themselves are not.

I was of two minds about this approach: on one hand, it took me under a few hours to read this book in its entirety, and I think I would’ve taken less time had I not been taking notes on what I wanted to discuss in the review. It’s a very easy, smooth read to take in, especially if you’re used to reading verse novels. On another hand – I would say the verse form doesn’t really aid it except in some turns of emotional resonance towards the end of the novel. The tone of it is relatively light, even with the heavy subject matter, and Molly’s narrative voice sounds SUPER young (even for being 14-15 years old). I felt like this somewhat hindered the novel as it didn’t really dig too deeply into the character emotions and development for the story. Plus: several stereotypes abound. My connection with the story was only threadbare because of these things.

The story comes from Molly, an almost 15 year old Jewish girl who has a project of counting the number of homeless people in her neighborhood as a part of a school community project in order to help get aid for them. She comes across an older girl named Red, who seems interesting with her red hair and spontaneous way of dancing, but Molly realizes quickly that Red suffers from some form of mental illness (I didn’t always like the language described for Red’s illness, to be honest. Describing someone with a mental illness as them being “crazy” is not – nor will it ever be – acceptable. Later, Molly learns more about Red’s struggles and recognizes Red’s condition for what it is, but the labeling still didn’t sit well with me for a good portion of the work.) In the mix of getting to know Red, Molly also falls for a boy she randomly meets named Cristo. Along with coming to understand why Molly struggles with panic attacks and why she needs her service dog Pixel, the narrative tackles a lot of different, difficult threads and manages to tie them together in a self-contained story.

The story had several cute moments, but for me was just worth the one-time read. I think a reluctant teen reader or those who like verse novels with a combination of tough subjects and brief interludes of romance with a lighter tone than say Hopkins works may find something to like in this. But I feel like Hopkins treats the gravity of the issues better in her novels than Sones did in this. (Plus, Molly had moments when her emphasis on certain things and jagged breaks in lines could be really be grating.) Overall, it was okay, but I felt like I wanted more from the experience.

Overall score: 2.5/5 stars.

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