By Christina Rosso
“You will not find any damsels in distress within these pages,” writes Rosso in the opening prologue of her new feminist fairytale anthology “She Is A Beast.” It’s true! This gorgeously illustrated collection of reimagined fairytales each highlight a strong, independent woman who needs no man, no rescuing, and no intervention by outside means. These women are kicking ass and taking names from the first tale to the last!
The maidens in Rosso’s stories are pure fireballs, blazing a path towards freedom. Each of these women have transformed into a beast to be reckoned with; beasts who refuse to be held down, to be kept captive, to be ransacked by the upholding of patriarchy. Rosso’s women have taken back their agency and autonomy, reclaimed their sexual independence, and broken the moulds.
These women wait for no one, including the reader! You’ll hardly have time to catch your breath between finishing one dark tale and diving into the next, but you won’t mind. It is easy to get swept up in the intense, empowering energy on each page; I read this book in practically one sitting! Well, that and I partly feared these exciting ladies might take off on their next adventure before I got a chance to read the first, leaving me behind in the dust. They truly wait for no one and nothing as they break through walls, glass ceilings, and the chains that try to hold them. I toast all of these self-made heroines with a Lucille Bluth, “Good for her!” martini raise! Heck. Yes.
It is an intense, brutal read, but so are classics like “Hans Christian Anderson Tales” or even darker “Grimm’s Fairytales.” People often seem to forget “The Big Mouse” has censored, sanitized, and reworked the classics to be “more easily digested.” Classic fairytales and folktales are not meant to be gentle. They’re meant to chill you to the bones, scare you to your core, and make you think. Rosso has channeled some of the same dark, brooding energy of these classic, haunting fairytale authors, but done it bigger, better, and bolder with a heap of much needed feminism.
Although I respect, appreciate, and adore Classic Fairytales, were I given the option I would much rather read these empowering tales to inquiring young minds than old-fashioned misogyny. Sure, Rosso’s women are ruthless, unwavering, unrelenting, but that is precisely the reason why they can stand their ground as read-alouds just as bravely, if not moreso, than their
origin stories did. This book is generally geared towards older teens and adults, and does have several frank discussions on certain subjects, but I still found myself wanting to get a copy for all the children I know.
There are six short stories in this collection, and each of them stands equally as good as the next. I could hardly choose a favourite, but I feel that I identified with the gals in “A Husband by Midnight” and “The Siren of the Wailing Lake.” I found them both to be very cheeky and intense in very different ways, and just really enjoyed their personal perspectives regarding their unsuspecting victims. The illustrations in this collection are also gorgeous. Too often the complaint of a reader is that they don’t see themselves reflected in the characters’ illustrations, but that’s not the case here. No, these illustrations are just as bold, strong, and accessible as
their written counterparts. The choice to have the heroines or details presented in a minimalist, modern illustration style expands their accessibility to a wide variety of readers. It’s easy to project faces of strong women you know and love onto these heroines, to even find echoes of your own strength within them. It’s a brilliant, thoughtful addition to this compelling, truly timeless collection of updated fairytales.
“She Is A Beast” reminds the reader that the world is not a kind, friendly place; it’s big, bad, and bold, but Rosso’s women also remind us that we are stronger than all of it. We can make our own choices, live our own truths, write our own stories…
And you don’t owe anyone a goddamn explanation nor an apology for any of it!
Reviewed by Ellen Avigliano
Instagram: @imaginariumarts and @thejackalopes.warren
I received a copy of this book from the author for review consideration.