Jackson Pearce made her debut with As You Wish, a YA novel about a girl who accidentally summons a genie—and then falls in love with him. In Sisters Red, a contemporary retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood,” the plot is more intense: sisters Scarlett and Rosie fight the Fenris (aka werewolves) that prey on girls in their Georgia town.
Scarlett and Rosie have an occasionally strained relationship. Older sister Scarlett is the “tough” one—the physically strong hunter on a self-appointed mission to kill all the Fenris in the world. Rosie feels indebted to Scarlett for saving her life as a child, and though she wants to kill the wolves, she also longs for the normal life of a teenager. Complicating matters, Rosie is also in love with Silas, their hunting partner. Scarlett is in love with the hunt.
In an interview with BookPage, 25-year-old Pearce tells us about writing for an older teen audience, crafting a “kickass heroine” and her relationship with her own sister, which partly inspired the novel—the first in a new series.
Sisters Red is inspired by “Little Red Riding Hood,” but with a twist: this time the wolf—or rather, wolves—are fought, not feared. Did you read any previous retellings of the fairytale when you were working on the book?
I actually avoided other retellings at all costs until Sisters Red was written and lightly revised. I was terrified that reading something else would mess with my mythology, or I’d see a great idea and be unable to use it since it was already someone else’s. I did, however, read every version of the actual fairytale I could find—French; German; U.S., Disney-fied sweet versions; super dark original versions. I think by reading the fairytale in its many incarnations, I was more able to find the heart of the story and stick to it.
Did your relationship with your own sister—to whom the book is dedicated—inspire any of the scenes between Scarlett and Rosie?
I think my relationship with my sister inspired and influenced the entire book, to be honest! But there are several scenes that I plucked straight from our childhood. Specifically, one where Rosie is lamenting how when Scarlett got poison ivy, she was allowed to sleep in their mother’s bed, and another where both Scarlett and Rosie visit an apple harvest festival and everyone is dressed up in apple-themed clothing and kids have paper apples stapled to their shirts. I have a photo of Katie riding her bike, covered in paper apples with apples painted on her cheeks. I have really big blackmail plans for that photo . . .
Many early reader reviews of Sisters Red have focused on Scarlett’s role as a fierce heroine. What do you think makes a character fierce or powerful; is it physical strength, the willingness to kill, cleverness or is there more to it?
I think there’s always more to it. Scarlett is immensely physically powerful—I wouldn’t want to meet her in an alley! But she’s also emotionally fragile, desperate and scared. Rosie is not quite as strong as her sister, but is more confident in herself and her relationships, more willing to let herself be happy. They’re both strong—just in very different ways. Neither is necessarily superior, and those obviously aren’t the only “versions” of strength in the world.
The Fenris are portrayed as sexual predators. The fight scenes don’t shy away from graphic violence (a ripped-off elbow comes to mind). Did you worry about alienating fans of As You Wish, which is written for a younger audience (12 & up vs. 15 & up)? Did you set out to write a book with more “mature” content?
I won’t lie, I am worried that fans of As You Wish will be shocked to read Sisters Red, but I couldn’t let that stop me from writing Scarlett and Rosie’s story the way it needed to be written—and the truth is, there’s just no pretty, happy, sweet way for a werewolf to eat innocent girls. Trying to tone down the violence would have felt like lying.
You’ve said that the names in Sisters Red have significance—Rosie and Scarlett are both related to the color red, and their last name, March, is a reference to Little Women. Can you identify some of the other name references?
Silas’ name means forest/wood, and the apartment they move to is on Andern street—Andern is a city where the Grimm brothers lived. The house number, 333, is the number that Little Red Riding Hood is classified as on the Aarne-Thompson classification system for folktales. Screwtape the cat is named after The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.
Will Scarlett, Rosie or Silas ever make an appearance in another Sisters Red book?
I’m not sure at this point. The upcoming book, Sweetly, is a companion, not a direct sequel, as is the projected third book in the series. I would love to return to Scarlett, Rosie and Silas, I just don’t have a story for them yet!
Sweetly, the second book in the Sisters Red series, is inspired by “Hansel and Gretel.” The third book, Fathomless, is a retelling of “The Little Mermaid. Are you interested in adapting other fairytales?
I love, love, love adapting fairytales, and as long as the ideas keep coming, I’ll keep writing them. I don’t currently have any books planned beyond Fathomless, but I can see that changing in the future.
What drew you to write supernatural novels? Why do you think this genre is so popular with teens right now?I’ve always loved to read supernatural novels, so it only seemed natural that I’d also enjoy writing them. I think the genre is especially popular recently because authors are taking more and more risks—adding romance, sexuality, violence, religion, etc. to books that might have been “neutered” 15 years ago, making the stories even more relatable than before.
What young adult writers influenced you?
I loved Lynne Reid Banks’ The Indian in the Cupboard, the Boxcar Children series and Harry Potter, as well as classics like Fahrenheit 451 and To Kill a Mockingbird. But to be honest, I think every book you read influences you in someway, for better or worse!
Sisters Red has been described as Little Red Riding Hood meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Are you happy with this comparison? Are you a Buffy fan?
I’m mixed on this—on the one hand, I love Buffy, so. . . hurrah! But on the other, I don’t personally think the two stories have THAT much in common. Buffy has an entourage, musical moments, she essentially has superpowers and can come back from the dead. Scarlett and Rosie. . . not so much. I am, however, thrilled that my characters are being compared to such an iconic, kickass heroine.
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