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The Red Word

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  716 ratings  ·  158 reviews
A smart, dark, and take-no-prisoners look at rape culture and the extremes to which ideology can go, The Red Word is a campus novel like no other. As her sophomore year begins, Karen enters into the back-to-school revelry--particularly at a fraternity called GBC. When she wakes up one morning on the lawn of Raghurst, a house of radical feminists, she gets a crash course in ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published March 13th 2018 by Grove Press, Black Cat
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Guy McElwaine Perhaps she lays it all out for us in her opening lines: "O sing of the American student body, glorious and young. We are the future!...We are all…morePerhaps she lays it all out for us in her opening lines: "O sing of the American student body, glorious and young. We are the future!...We are all giddy and hyperventilating in the superoxygenated atmosphere of attention and information and privilege and power. We all thought we were different but we weren’t. ...For the rest of our lives we would yearn for this feeling of exigency and belonging and fullness and passion. From here on in, it would be nostalgia."

Compressing that, the American frat/sor system enables extravagant behavior that its participants will never find possible again in their lives.(less)

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3.79  · 
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 ·  716 ratings  ·  158 reviews

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Navidad Thélamour
A solid 4 stars!

O sing of the American student body, glorious and young. We are the future!...Everyone on a university campus is equally young. We are all the same social class…We all wear the same clothes and listen to the same music…We are all giddy and hyperventilating in the superoxygenated atmosphere of attention and information and privilege and power. We all thought we were different but we weren’t. We all thought we were resisting something but we weren’t. We all thought that life would
(I'm a little disappointed to learn this... I haven't read enough new Canadian books this year to know what the competition was, but I have to wonder why this was selected as best fiction book of the year.)

I knew this wasn't a book that I was going to enjoy. I knew that going in, by reading the publisher's description. Just seeing the words "rape culture", I knew heavy, uncomfortable, stuff lay ahead of me.

The story is Karen
Glenn Sumi
Winner: Governor General’s Award for English-Language Fiction, 2018

It’s been a few weeks since I finished Sarah Henstra’s The Red Word, which won one of Canada’s top literary prizes last fall. But it continues to haunt me.

Perhaps it’s because I live near a big university campus and occasionally pass by frat houses. Also: rape and consent are topics that have been cropping up recently in a lot of the plays I’ve seen. It’s also very well written. Whatever the reason, this book has made me think a
Mar 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
3.75 stars

This book was definitely a lot.

First of all, I enjoyed all the references to the myths and the Greek classics, they were interesting and they definitely added something to the novel.
Something I found realistic were the characters talking about and being deeply influenced by their studies and professors, it was such a college thing that I could not help but be fond of it.

The take this book had on rape culture gave me a lot to think about, especially about how colleges perceive certai
Dannii Elle
I have closed my year by reading what ended up being one of my favourites!

The synopsis cites this a 'campus novel', which it is, that takes a look at rape culture, which it does. The reality of this book, however, is something that no brief synopsis or review of mine could ever accurately portray, so vast is the scope of the topics discoursed.

This is a complicated and twisty novel in all the best ways. The complex and intellectual narrative often felt like it meandered away from the actual bones
This is a difficult book to review and I started out not knowing where I stand and what star rating to give it, but the more I think about it the more of a bad taste it leaves in my mouth. It’s hard to shake off what I think are some unconscious messages in the novel that seems to want to make excuses for golden boys who belong in fraternities and demonise feminists for being “extremists”.

First, in tems of style and construction, this book purportedly takes a lot of inspiration and thematic con
Roman Clodia
Sep 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Gender politics, sexualised violence, the institutionalised nature of misogyny are all hot topics in fiction, but this is one of the most complex and complicated (in a good way) treatments of these fraught questions that I've read.

Set in a mid-1990s Ivy League university, this explores what happens when Karen starts dating a boy belonging to one of the most notorious fraternities on campus, renowned for their inbred sexism while, at the same time, being adopted by a group of radical feminists.
Jan 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: can-con, 2019
“Don't you think watching the video is another kind of assault?” I'd meant to say “another rape”, but I backed off the word last-minute. “Rape” was a red word, a ravenous word. It was double-edged, the word “rape”. It would automatically make me an accuser and Mike an accused. And it would immediately and forever afterward make it my job to justify myself, to defend myself as the accuser against all manner of arguments. I would somehow have to transform myself into an unimpeachable fortress of
Jessica Woodbury
Jan 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: best-of-2019
It is my lot in life to be forever chasing THE SECRET HISTORY, a book I read over and over again in college to the point of obsession. It is also a book that people continue to use as a comp title 20 years later because people like me will fall for it. We are inevitably disappointed. But. This is the first time I've read a book and thought, "Wow, this feels like THE SECRET HISTORY." Even better, while it shares some of the same DNA--campus novel, classicism, paganism, obsession, violence--it is ...more
Nov 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canadiana, feminism
I'm usually always a bit apprehensive about novels set in academia, because I tend to be put off by the ones that are always too academic. I'm not saying I'm not ~intellectual~ enough to appreciate them; I'm just not the sort of reader who picks up a fictional novel and wants to get lectured at about topics I may not even be interested in outside of the novel itself for a good majority of it. It's one of the reasons I recently decided to remove Karin Slaughter's latest book from my list of books ...more
Chris Via
Nov 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, arc
Sarah Henstra, despite most marketing blurbs I've read, is not merely a fresh young voice graduating from her YA novel Mad Miss Mimic  (2015) to her debut adult novel The Red Word; she is a PhD-holding professor and graduate practicum director at Toronto's Ryerson University. Her specialization is 20th-century British literature, upon which she has various scholarly publications. She is a board member of the Canadian Creative Writers and Writing Programs (CCWWP), and she was on the steering com ...more
Jessica Sullivan
May 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Red Word is like The Secret History if it were about campus rape culture in the 1990s. Rooted in Greek mythology, it is itself a modern myth, as it pits the Gamma Beta Chi fraternity and a group of radical feminists against one another in an epic battle.

Karen Huls is at the center of it all, attempting to belong simultaneously at Raghurst, the house where she lives with four queer feminists, and at the frat house known as “Gang Bang Central.”

This in itself is a far-fetched premise that’s har
Orla Hegarty
Mar 04, 2019 rated it did not like it
This won the Governor General's literary prize for 2018 here in the colonial outpost known as Canada.

A cool topic bro (sis?). Rape culture and stuff, yanno.

But feminism? You've got to be kidding man (woman). There is a scant amount here. Where are the intergenerational feminist consciousness raising groups? The on the ground local action in a community beyond the ivory tower? And what's with all the greek shyte? And the soft porn (with such MEANING).

A 2018 white female professor professes on rap
Feb 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
I received a free digital copy of this book from the publishers/author via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

TW Graphic sex, assault, excessive drink and drugs, suicide attempts, violence towards women.

A powerful book focusing on a college student’s foray into feminism, women studies, college campus rape culture and the dangerous world of fraternities, and violence against women.

This is a heavy but powerful, important read that only makes the reader think and feel a lot of things bu def
Lisa Faye
Apr 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've read a few reviews already that made the link between this book and "The Secret History", but I have to add one more. If you liked that book, you'll like this one I think! It really illustrates that openness to ideas that comes up for many of us in undergraduate education, but also the ways that ones naivete at that time of life can also make that openness kind of dangerous.

The book opened up a lot of complex feelings about the way rape culture is currently discussed and debated and the di
Jan 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book explores rape culture, feminism, Helen of Troy and Greek mythology and it’s extremely interesting. This would be a good book for a book club discussion as there’s so many parts to this story and great discussion points. Contains a few difficult and disturbing scenes so be warned. But a good read, written very well and nicely researched.
Dearna (Words of the Roses)
Full review:

“This is the trouble with myth. Each of us scoops out our own rotten core and spits it out on stage. We stand around the heap of smoking corpses and declare it fate.”

Wow, I’m not sure what I was excepting from this book but it ended up being way more than I could ever imagine. It was a heavy read full of deep, dark topics but at the same time, I flew through it. This is one I’ll be thinking about for a long time.

I will say if you find rape and
Apr 23, 2018 rated it it was ok
I agree with the over arching themes of the book: rape.on college campuses is a problem and passivity is not going to solve it, nor is victim blaming. however, I feel this book approached the issue in a terribly dangerous way--by making the feminist group the instigators, it flips everything around and gives an opening for people to go "see, it's really just women making this up, men arent doing anything wrong. we're just partying!" and we all just go on the way things are. this could have been ...more
SOO GOOD. New favourite!

I discovered this book a few months before it's release date and I was already hooked by the topics it said to cover. So, once I started reading The Red Word I thought, "wow, this is going to be dense" but once invested in the characters and the story line it isn't dense at all, it's smart, well-written, complex and an intriguing book.


*A copy of this book was provided to me by ECW Press*
Nov 02, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: feminism
Thanks to Grove Atlantic/NetGalley for the ARC.

The Red Word is a campus thriller which takes place at an elite school in the 1990s. The campus sections are interspersed with the present-day experiences of the narrator, Karen.

Karen is a Canadian student who falls in with two hugely different groups of students at the same time. She lives in a feminist collective named Raghurst, the inhabitants of which are largely devotees of a women's studies professor, Sylvia Esterhazy. At the same time, she's
miss.mesmerized mesmerized
Mar 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
For a conference, Karen returns to the town she attended college many years before. It is not a pleasant return since the place is connected to sad memories. Going back there brings it all again to her mind. Her roommates, nice girls at first, whose plan got completely wrong. Her then boy-friend and his fraternity GBC who always treated her nicely but also had another, darker side. The teacher they all admired in their gender studies classes. And the scandal that shock the whole town.

Sarah Henst
Riley Ashby
Mar 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars

Trigger warnings for graphic sexual assault, rape, sui, substance use/abuse

Are the right people suffering for your actions?

Four days removed from this book and I’m still not sure how to review it. I’m not even totally sure what star rating to give it. This is an emotionally wracking novel, with high stakes for all involved, and topples the ever-popular infamous issue of rape and sexual assault on college campuses, particularly at parties, particularly at fraternity parties.

Karen, our na
Mar 07, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is my honest review, in exchange for the copy of this book provided by ECW Press.

I am not university educated myself, but having worked and spent much time in close proximity to a major Canadian university, I’ve witnessed first hand some of the (more benign) antics of 19 year olds living away from home for the first time in their young lives (living room furniture moved to front lawn, toilet papered trees, for example). And so, I found reading about campus life (sex, drugs, booze, parties,
Lisa Buchanan
Jun 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Sarah Henstra's debut adult novel is timely in the context of the #MeToo movement, but thanks to its setting in time (mostly 1995) and grounding in Greek mythology, it goes to show the current moment is shedding light on what is a historic pervasiveness of sexual assault, misogyny, patriarchy.

While set in the microcosm of a university, the characters contemplate what their experiencing from a macro-level perspective, as well. While the frat party/Greek tradition aspects of the story were quite o
Jun 20, 2018 rated it it was ok
I was prompted to read Sarah Henstra's The Red Word after watching an incredibly eyeopening Netflix documentary called 'The Hunting Ground', which focuses upon the scale, and the frankly shocking handling of cases, of sexual assaults on college campuses across the United States. I love campus novels too, and thought that this would be a great choice.

At first, the novel was compelling, with some of the dialogue and ideas verging on the profound. The writing throughout is intelligent and measured.
Jan 03, 2019 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An absolutely beautiful and stirring novel that I found hard to put down. Rarely does a book take feminism and rape culture so head on, turning it upside down, and taking you on a journey along the way. Karen, the narrator, is a fabulous character, one who will stay with me. Her point of view, the way she was both an outsider and an insider, and how she drove the story, was fascinating. I loved all the rich characters, and following a year in their ives at an ivy-league school. It is often hard ...more
Cherise Wolas
Set on an Ivy League campus in the 1990s, the novel follows sophomore Karen Hulse, a Canadian student, as she moves between Raghurst, the house where she lives with a collective of queer and queer-friendly radical feminists, and Gamma Beta Chi, the fraternity known as Gang Bang Central, drug and alcohol-fueled and filled with various versions of misogynists, with their Black Bag room and rating of women, where she is dating Mike, and has an intense crush on golden boy Bruce. The "red word" of th ...more
Nikki Stafford
Nov 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is fantastic. Everyone is talking about how timely it is, but this book would have been excellent no matter when it came out. Yes, it's a perfect discussion in a #metoo climate, but aside from that, Henstra has crafted a beautifully written, fast-paced story with such dynamic characters that I could barely put it down. Every once in a while she pauses for a two-page discussion between characters, formatted like a Greek chorus talking as an aside. One near the end was so brilliant I've ...more
Oct 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Red Word is an introspective, and terrifying look at rape (the Red Word) on a college campus.  The protagonist, Karen, enters a world of feminists and frat boys, college ideals against sober reality, and evil that does not always have a counterpart of good.

Karen is introduced to her life Raghurst, a shared house with 4 other roommates, each with specific ideals that are foreign to Karen, by being asked if she was raped the night before. Her year at Raghurst is just beginning, but the issue o
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My novel The Red Word is available March 2018 from Grove Atlantic (US) and ECW (Canada), and in 2019 from Tramp Press (UK). Mad Miss Mimic was published by Penguin Canada in 2015. We Contain Multitudes is coming in 2019 from Penguin (Canada) and Little, Brown (US). I'm also an English professor and I teach courses in Fairy Tales & Fantasy and Gothic Horror.
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