“A timely, telling look at rape culture on campus, Sarah Henstra’s The Red Word boldly goes to the places where memoir can’t but fiction can.”—PopSugar
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 the state of feminist activism on campus. GBC is notorious, she learns, nicknamed “Gang Bang Central” and a prominent contributor to a list of date rapists compiled by female students. Despite continuing to party there and dating one of the brothers, Karen is equally seduced by the intellectual stimulation and indomitable spirit of the Raghurst women, who surprise her by wanting her as a housemate and recruiting her into the upper-level class of a charismatic feminist mythology scholar they all adore. As Karen finds herself caught between two increasingly polarized camps, ringleader housemate Dyann believes she has hit on the perfect way to expose and bring down the fraternity as a symbol of rape culture—but the war between the houses will exact a terrible price.
Named One of the Best New Books of the Month by Harper’s Bazaar, PopSugar, Bitch, Fast Company, and Read It Forward
“The smartest, most provocative novel I’ve read in a long time. Sarah Henstra dives headlong into some murky, turbulent waters—gender politics, campus sexual assault, complicity, moral responsibility—and emerges with a book that’s as shocking as it is essential.” —Tom Perrotta, New York Times-bestselling author
“Will get you fuming, laughing, cheering, and most of all, thinking.”—Cosmopolitan
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.