Annotation: This short collection of free verse poems and creepy illustrations features macabre retellings of classic fairy tales from “Hansel and Gretel” to “Rumpelstiltskin.”
Personal thoughts: I am a fan of fairytale retellings, so when I heard about this creepy collection, and saw the very grim cover, I made sure to pick it up. Although I did enjoy the book, I found myself thinking as I was reading it, “Wow. This isn’t really for teens.” A lot of the stories are based on more obscure fairy tales, there is definitely some very adult language and imagery in them, and a lot of the humor and irony is very subtle. That’s not to say that I don’t think many teen readers would be able to understand the poems, they just seem to me that they would appeal much more to an adult audience. I would have trouble recommending this collection to teens who are simply interested in reading fairy tale retellings, as I feel there are many more appropriate and enjoyable books for the age group. To older teens and adults who want a taste of the macabre, however, I would suggest giving this one a try.
Plot summary: Written in free verse, this macabre collection of poems and creepy illustrations includes twenty-three retellings of classic fairy tales. Featured tales range from “Cinderella,” told from the perspective of the stepsisters, “Hansel and Gretel,” who want revenge against the father that allowed them to be abandoned in the woods, and a monologue from “Red Riding Hood” who is relaying what happened to her mother once she is home safe from Grandma’s house.
Review: Seasoned young adult author and poet Ron Koertge delivers a chilling set of retold fairy tales in Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses. The collection is brief and can easily be read in one sitting, although many readers might want to go through some of the chapters twice so as not to miss any gruesome details. In terms of enjoyment, some of the tales fare better than others. Although the book is marketed for the young adult audience, only some of Koertge’s retellings will appeal to teen readers. Teens will likely enjoy tales like “Red Riding Hood, Home at Last, Tells Her Mother What Happened,” “Hansel and Gretel,” and “Memoirs of the Beast,” all grim but witty retellings of stories that younger readers will undoubtedly be familiar with. Other chapters, such as “Godfather Death,” “The Little Match Girl” and “The Robber Bridegroom” are taken from tales that aren’t as well-known, and are far more grisly, making them less likely to resonate with the young adult audience. In fact, when factors like language, characterization and imagery are taken into account, this collection seems more appropriate for an adult audience. At most, it will entertain very sophisticated teen readers who will understand all the nuances in each retelling and be familiar with the original tales they are derived from. Overall, Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses is an enjoyable and entertaining journey into the creepiness of fairy tales, but one that is likely to appeal more to adults than to teens.
Genre: Short Stories/Poetry
Reading level: Grade 9+
Similar titles: Kill Me Softly by Sarah Cross, Sweetly and Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce, Twisted: Tales to Rot Your Brain Vol. 1 by Nora Thompson, A Wolf at the Door and Other Retold Fairy Tales by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling.
Themes: Fairy tales, poetry, macabre, irony, humor.
Awards/Reviews: Starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and The Horn Book, positive review from School Library Journal.
Series Information: N/A
Discussion questions:- What is your favorite chapter in this collection? Why?
- Were there any fairy tales featured in this collection that you weren’t familiar with? Which ones?
- Do you think that the illustrations enhance the collection? Why or why not?
- The author describes this collection as being written in “free verse.” What is free verse? Have you ever read anything else in this style of writing?
- If you had to create your own creepy retelling of a classic fairy tale, which story would you choose?