Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Seeing Red - Kathryn Erskine

I received a copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Seeing Red


GoodreadsNational Book Award winner Kathryn Erskine delivers a powerful story of family, friendship, and race relations in the South.

Life will never be the same for Red Porter. He's a kid growing up around black car grease, white fence paint, and the backward attitudes of the folks who live in his hometown, Rocky Gap, Virginia.

Red's daddy, his idol, has just died, leaving Red and Mama with some hard decisions and a whole lot of doubt. Should they sell the Porter family business, a gas station, repair shop, and convenience store rolled into one, where the slogan -- "Porter's: We Fix it Right!" -- has been shouting the family's pride for as long as anyone can remember?

With Daddy gone, everything's different. Through his friendship with Thomas, Beau, and Miss Georgia, Red starts to see there's a lot more than car motors and rusty fenders that need fixing in his world.

When Red discovers the injustices that have been happening in Rocky Gap since before he was born, he's faced with unsettling questions about his family's legacy.


So I basically spent this entire book on the verge of tears.   I had NO idea what I was getting to with this book.  It's set during the 70's and it deals with the aftermath of the civil rights movement and the rampant sexism that was still in place.  This book is powerful.  It isn't that I was on the verge of tears because I was constantly devastated (although don't get me wrong, there are DEFINITELY heart breaking moments) - they were more tears of shock and frustration at what Red was dealing with.  And despite what we think about it now, this is barely even history.  It is a very, very close past.

I don't think I'm alone in seeing overt racism and sexism in the US as something in the distant past.  (I mean the kind where you get lynched or that domestic abuse was not really a police matter - OVERT overt) I'm not saying it doesn't still exist - unfortunately, I think that is part of being human.  A minority of people are always going to feel that way about us.  But a lot of giant steps were taken to solve many of these issues before I was born.  But when you say the seventies...that was not that long ago.  That was in my parent's time. That doesn't sound as long ago as it feels.

This book deals with so many issues - racism, sexism, loss of a parent, growing pains, domestic abuse, where blame stops, sins of your ancestors - I mean the list goes on.  Despite all of this, it's not a difficult book to get through.  I know that sounds hard to believe considering what that list is, but the writing is well-written, but simple, and the characters are so relateable I could NOT put it down, and stayed up til 3 am to finish it!

Every thing in this book is so layered - in a lot of ways it reminds me of To Kill a Mockingbird (I know I have said this about another book only a couple weeks ago - I promise not everything reminds me of TKaM!)  Sometimes the reader has things figured out way before the character in the same way that in TKaM, Scout might say something and not fully understand what it meant, whereas the reader knew exactly what was happening.  It's not like a mystery where it's unfortunate that you know things before the narrator does.  It really sets up different levels of understanding depending on the reader's experience, which is why I think it would be a great book for classrooms or from a parent as an introduction to issues.  This book is also a great example as to why the Bechdel test isn't a measurement of how well a book displays women in literature, it's simply an observation of their roles.  Seeing Red doesn't pass the test as the book is narrated in first person and our narrator is a boy, but it strongly advocates male/female equality (it's not preachy though, don't worry).  I'm not sure I've read a book that so strongly shows why we need it, and what it means when we don't have it, and it was very well done!

My only complaint is Thomas.  Yes, what Red did was awful.  But Thomas decided to stop being friends with him long beforehand, and Red stood up for him, even if he made some grievous errors directly beforehand.  He might have taken a second to recover, but he did what was right.  I don't see why Red is the only one to blame here, or that his sins are unforgiveable.  Most of my problem is not so much Thomas's reaction to what Red did (because I definitely get that), but more that he stopped being friends before that whole situation without a good reason.  Part of that is a me thing...I have loyalty issues.  You better have a damn good reason to stop being best friends with someone *spoilers* and that person being white is not a good reason.  Perhaps Thomas meant it as self preservation, but Red had done nothing at that point to deserve judgement because of his race.  That's racism as well. *spoilers*.  But other than an issue that is more of a personal complaint than an actual criticism of the book, this book is really amazing, and I really recommend it.  If you are looking for a book to expand your child's (I say child lightly, I don't think this is a book for someone who isn't ready for it) awareness of issues, or to have a book that might open up a dialogue between the two of you, this should definitely be at the top of your list!


  1. Is it weird that I enjoy books that deal with social issues like this? I think it'll have to go on my list, just because of the subject matter :)

    When I was in high school (a million years ago) I was so disappointed we weren't going to read To Kill a Mockingbird, so I borrowed it from the library and devoured it. That is an essential book I think!

  2. No I am totally with you on books like these - I think they're SO important! Although I can't usually read too many close together or I get depressed haha.

    I'm surprised it wasn't required reading for you! Although now that I think of it, you're Australian and I guess for some reason I hadn't really thought about how your required reading would be different. I'm glad you checked out anyway, I definitely filter a lot of books I read through TKaM lenses! (And I'm glad also that I wasn't the only weird high school student who read classics for fun haha)

  3. Elizabeth, have you read Kathryn Erskine's earlier novel "Mockingbird?" It's an amazing, amazing book.

  4. I haven't! As soon as I finished this book I looked up her others (I think she's coming out with another this year? I could be completely wrong about that), so I added Mockingbird to my TBR right away haha. If you stop back by the blog, leave me a link to yours so I can check it out!


Thanks for leaving a comment! You've totally made my day :D

I love talking to you guys, so I always respond to comments. Be sure to check back!