Monday, April 21, 2014

Review: All That Is Red by Anna Caltabiano

Title: All That Is Red by Anna Caltabiano
Publisher: New Generation Publishing
Release Date: May 20, 2012
Genres: Drama**
Medium: Paperback, Received For Review

I'm going to start off this review by saying that I'm not really sure how to write it. There was a few things I didn't like about the novel, but there is also many things I did like. Overall, this all boiled down to this novel being slightly confusing and overly poetic, but still a very creative and interesting novel.

If you could choose a world without loneliness, without shame, grief, misery, or feeling of any kind, would you, if it also meant that you lost the simple pleasure of a picnic on a sunny day or the joy of falling in love? Would the allure of a comfortable numbness prove too tempting to resist? Could you choose between feeling pain and not feeling anything, ever again?

A girl is caught in a world where this choice is fiercely contested. In the cross-fire between the Red and White empires, the feeling and the unfeeling, each bent on the other's destruction, the girl must choose between emotion and oblivion, joining the ranks with the Reds as they fight to resist the Whites, but all the while struggling with her own desperate ambivalence. All That Is Red is a story of survival and a journey through the human condition, revealing how the intimate euphoria of pain can sometimes be all we have to remind us that we are alive.

The plot of this novel is very interesting. The beginning is slightly confusing in the way that neither the main character nor the reader has any idea where they are or what is going on. The war between the Red and the White feels a little overly-complicated and more than a little metaphorical. I understand what the author was trying to convene here, the difference between feeling and unfeeling and how feeling emotions is a good thing, but the plot about the battle between Red and White seems a little 'out-there.' The point of the novel is "feeling emotions is a good thing" and though I see what the author was trying to do when she wrote this, I feel like that point could have been better exemplified in a different, less-confusing matter. To be honest, when I started reading about the Red and White world and the three-faced people, I was instantly reminded of Alice and Wonderland for some reason. It is that type of unbelievable, almost fairly-tale fantasy. Not to say I didn't enjoy it though. It was original and creative, and definitely one of kind, seeing as I have never read anything like it before (this should explain my trouble of coming up with ideas on how to write this review and difficulty picking out a genre.) It was magical, flowed at a good speed, and was slightly interesting.

The characters were also very unusual and interesting. The main character (who has no name, mind you) suffers from self-harm, and who has flashbacks of cutting herself throughout the novel. She finds herself in this world where the Red and the White (the feeling and unfeeling) are at war with each other, and she must lead the Red cause. There is some nice character development going on here as she matures into a leader, but sometimes feels rushed, because she goes from being a normal teenage girl who has no clue where she is in this world and pages later, is thrust into the position of being a leader. It comes a bit too fast. Then there is her friend (also nameless, until the last few pages of the book; simply called "The Boy") who helps her lead and fight the White, and also finds himself in the process. There is several supporting characters who also have a share in the fight, like the girl's possible love interest, a three-faced Red creature called a Trigon. These characters all bond together to fight an impossible fight between feeling emotions and the rather.

I will say the writing is nice. It is not spectacular, but neither is it terrible. It felt quite "put-on" really. For example, the writing could be very complicated and unnecessarily wordy at times, then be very plain and sparse at others. There was no real balence here. There was several instances of lengthy and almost pointless inner conflict and dialogue that could be described as poetic rambling. Most of the time, while reading this novel, I felt like the author felt a need to use big strong words and lengthy descriptions, yet in reality, the plot really went nowhere. It was fake feeling because the writing was very robotic and forced. I wish there had been a few things cleaned up about the plot, and the writing needed some polishing, and honestly, some time to mature and grow. In my personal opinion, when writing an emotionally-charged novel, there needs to be some discipline here, otherwise the writing gets very hard to read and get through, almost like trudging through waist-deep mud. It also causes novels with good potential to become very DNF-worthy. In this case, I stuck through it to see how it would end.

The plot description of the novel asks what you would do if you could choose between feeling emotion (heartache, pain) and not feeling these emotions, if you would choose to not feel them, if it meant not being able to experience love or pleasure. This sounds like a very good hook for a novel, but in reality, the writing inside this novel doesn't match the plot description that much. The plot's definitely one of a kind, but yet almost in a bad way. The writing could use some work, but I respect the fact that the author was at the time 15 and chose to write about a subject so controversial as self-harm. I commend her for this, and because of it, I will watch her in the future to see how her writing progresses. I think she has real potential if she could hone her craft.

Overall, I found this novel to have had very good potential, but yet came out lacking.  With some more polishing and some time, this novel could have been much better. Yet, It is nicely paced and full of creativity and things I never would have thought of. Even with the few problems I had with the novel, I still found it to be a very interesting read written in a unique perspective that is quite original and interesting.

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