August 30, 2012

Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses

LIES, KNIVES AND GIRLS IN RED DRESSES by Ron Koertge; illustrated by Andrea Dezso, (Candlewick Press, 2012)
GENRE: Poetry / Fairy Tales
AGE: 14 and up

Tapping into the burgeoning popularity of fairy tales and fairy tale adaptations, poet and novelist Ron Koertge presents this slender little volume of free-verse. But though aesthetically pleasing, (thanks to Andrea Dezso's cut paper illustrations and a gorgeous lay-out), and occasionally inventive, Koertge's trim, darkly funny collection is a bit of a mixed bag. While all of the stories are solid, only half contribute something new to the source materials, and of those, only a handful truly stand-out, making the rest dim by comparison.

Among the stand-outs are a fantastic re-imagining of "Hansel and Gretel" with a gruesome twist at end, a lovely re-telling of "Thumbelina" told from the mole's point of view, a strong, incisive look at Bluebeard's young wife and a version of "The Emperor's New Clothes" with some truly cutting social commentary woven through. Also, quite nice were the re-telling of "Rapunzel" from a five different points of view, and a quietly heartbreaking account of the Cinderella's step-sisters' Ever After. Each tale is accompanied by one of Dezso's strange, unsettling cut paper illustrations, all of which lend the casual, contemporary tone of the volume a somewhat gruesome, silhouetted depth. Koertge's free-verse has a wry, cutting quality that sometimes overwhelms the material, (as in "The Robber Bridegroom), but for the most part, it's a strong compliment to the black humor with which he re-tells these tales.

Overall, Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses does not uncover any new ground in the dark, fairy tale forest. It does, however, add a nice bit of nuance and smirky humor to the territory, making it a good volume for the fairy tale inclined and a nice introduction, if nothing else, to the appeal of free-verse.

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