2005’s Red Rider’s Hood is the second volume in Neal Shusterman’s Dark Fusion series. It is a modern-day retelling of Little Red Riding Hood.
Sixteen-year-old Red allows himself to be distracted by the revelation that classmate Marissa Flowers might have a bit of a crush on him. His befuddlement allows Cedric Soames’ Wolf gang to ambush, overpower, and rob Red and his beloved Grandma. Worse, the gang steals Red’s beloved Mustang.
Of course, this means war.
Unenthusiastic about her role as an unwitting pawn in her brother Marvin’s plan to harass Red, Marissa joins forces with Red. If you add Red’s Grandma, that makes three people against Cedric, Marvin, and the rest of the Wolves. If being outnumbered ten to one weren’t enough of a handicap, the Wolves call themselves Wolves not out of some desire to intimidate. They are literal wolves, of the were variety, who are immune to all mundane weapons.
But Grandma has a little surprise of her own. She’s a retired werewolf hunter. Years ago, she and her husband hunted the previous Wolf gang into near-extinction, a quest that cost her husband his life. Grandma may be old, but she has not forgotten any of her tricks. When it comes to an angry pensioner armed with a surprising quantity of silver bullets versus a supernatural street gang, bet on the old lady.
Unless her over-eager grandson’s cunning scheme to infiltrate the gang goes horribly wrong. Then you might want to bet on the wolves.
It’s not clear if werewolves are always chaotic evil in this setting1 or if the issue is that the people spreading lycanthropy deliberately chose like-minded criminals to bite. There is no way to sort out heredity versus environment.
Red is a classic example of what TV Tropes entry on The Load.. Like the hero (of sorts) of the fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk, Red is easily distracted. Unlike Jack, Red’s poor judgment is not compensated by a talent for finding magic beans. His efforts leave his team worse off than they would have been without him. Even Grandma gets exasperated with Red. It’s not enough that he costs her her hidden fortune. He also convinces himself that the smart move is to join the Wolves. Oh, and he disposes of her silver bullets as well.
If this were a comedy, Red’s confident ineptitude might be funny. However, the book seems to be intended as a straightforward teen adventure, one in which Red figures largely because he is the first person narrator of the story. If the reader is to find out what happened, Red has to be present. That means poor Grandma and Marissa have to compensate for Red’s energetic attempts to “help.” Poor them.
Retellings of classic fairy tales can be engaging. This particular example isn’t.
1: Vampires don’t seem to be chaotic evil. In fact, Red likes the local vampires. In part this is because Red would be as dead as a doornail if the local vampires didn’t occasionally intervene on his behalf. In greater part this may be due to the fact that the local vampires are all hot chicks. Red is a sixteen-year-old boy. A cis-het boy.