*This review is by my friend The Girl in the Orange.* There is one spoiler in this review, which is in extremely small font and crossed out.
I closed my eyes and from where I stood on the cliff, I saw a brilliant view of the Red fields far below me. They seemed to welcome me and I eagerly leapt forward into their embrace.
“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. Anna Caltabiano is fifteen years old. She was born in British colonial Hong Kong to a Japanese mother and an Italian-American father, before moving to Palo Alto, California; the mecca of futurism. Her writing explores and exposes an adolescent dystopia in which accepted traditions, religions, cultures and communities have been eroded, resulting in a lost generation consumed by social apathy and self-loathing which has found solace through electronic connections.”
I wanted to like this book. I really did. As an aspiring teen author myself, Caltabiano’s story was inspirational and motivational to me, and I snapped up a copy of the book as soon as I could find one–I did end up reading it all the way through, but mainly because I felt obligated. I found the writing overly simplistic at times, while trying too hard to sound sophisticated at others (which is, granted, easy to fall prey to). I think you can definitely tell that it wasn’t written by an adult–which is, of course, not necessarily a bad thing, but the inexperience seeps through the cracks in the voice of the novel. I would have loved to see an adult editor/mentor work harder on this with Caltabiano; in my opinion, the book would have been improved drastically by maturing the tone a bit.
The book was also extremely vague; sure, vagueness can be a useful and thought-provoking tool in prose, but in this book the main character doesn’t have a name, nor does her male accomplice/friend/possible love interest, at least until the last few pages. The dimension, or world or realm or wherever the story takes place, isn’t described except in context. You have to piece everything together, based only on the protagonist’s short jaunt through it at the beginning of the novel. Even more confusing, the main character keeps flashing back to the “real” world throughout the novel, mentioning things like cutting herself at school and in the bathtub, which is woefully inconsistent with the realm in which her narration is taking place; of course, the realm is later revealed to be her own psyche, which she travels through on a metaphorical journey while unconscious from blood loss and while this big reveal was essentially the climax of the book, I felt that it could have been written better had we known (or inferred) this from the beginning. Maybe it was just me and my idiocy. But I was very lost almost the entire time I was reading All That is Red.