cover image The Red Word

The Red Word

Sarah Henstra. Black Cat, $16 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2655-9

Young adult author Henstra’s first adult outing is an incisive campus novel. Set in the mid-’90s, the story follows a group of four sorority-bashing, fraternity-loathing ultrafeminists at an unnamed Ivy League university, most of them lesbians who live in an off-campus house they nickname Raghurst. Karen, a Canadian, becomes the girls’ fifth housemate and distinguishes herself from the pack by dating Mike, a member of one of the most notorious fraternities, Gamma Beta Chi. When word gets around that the good-looking Bruce Comfort, another Gamma Beta Chi, got a girl on campus pregnant and refuses to take responsibility, Raghurst ringleader Dyann concocts a plan to roofie the fraternity at their own party. But a female partygoer gets caught in the crossfire and gang-raped after accidentally consuming the drug. The result is a campuswide debate about what exactly happened that night and who is responsible. Henstra portrays Greek life in a harsh light and doesn’t hold back when describing the excessive drunkenness, debauchery, and deplorable misogynistic attitudes at Gamma Beta Chi. Though the parts of the story that take place 15 years in the future seem underdeveloped and a few aspects of the Raghurst–vs.–Gamma Beta Chi saga don’t fully ring true, the novel raises essential questions surrounding class privilege, rape, and gendered power dynamics on campus. [em]Agent: Monica Pacheco, the McDermid Agency. (Mar.) [/em]