Book Review: She is A Beast by Christina Rosso

Book Review: She is A Beast by Christina Rosso

Photo Credit: Daniel DiFranco


Content Warning: This review contains mentions of violence, abuse and misogyny.


She is A Beast by Christina Rosso is an empowering collection of feminist fairy tales. This book of short stories includes a mix of re-telling classics and the author’s original pieces. Published by APEP publications, this book is full of evocative illustrations by Jeremy Gaulke to accompany Rosso’s finely crafted tales.


Once Upon A Time


“Once upon a time… Women were told they were weak, foolish and most importantly, voiceless. This silence made them small. But they were just pretending to be inferior, biding their time. This book is dedicated to the women who refuse to be stuffed into boxes created by men or society.

This book is for the beasts.”

Prologue, Christina Rosso, She is A Beast


The first four word words of this book have me settling in with some old memories. I recall settling onto my grandmother’s lap as she opened books to read to me long before I could read them myself. As a child, these were stories of adventure and wonder. I had no idea that they would be laying the foundation for how I viewed gender roles or valued myself. It’s easy to see the impact of these early lessons in hindsight. I have a love/hate relationship with fairy tales. These stories sparked my imagination as a young reader and writer. However, I hate that I find so many problematic lessons within them that they are hard for me to enjoy now.

What’s the solution?

Read some new fairy tales, of course! And Rosso gives me the perfect opportunity to do this with language that gives me a bit of nostalgia and more modern messages to consider. Am I a beast? Could I possibly be? There seems to be only one way to find out.


She’s Nobody’s Belle


“It would be a good life. I watched my husband tear my clothes from my body. It would be a fine life. I watched his hands wrap around my throat. My father told me I would be lucky to have this life.”

Killing the Beast, Christina Rosso, She is A Beast


The first tale in this book has me hooked immediately. It’s a retelling of one of my favourite, problematic stories- Beauty and the Beast. Immediately, we are faced with a woman who is fighting against the traditional expectations of her father. The man she is promised to marry appears to be one thing to society at large, and yet another to his intended wife. When reading descriptions of how this man looks at and refers to women, it is easy to imagine this in a modern setting.

One thing that the author does immediately, is set us up to trust the narrator. She knows what is best for herself. Her gut is clearly telling her that marrying this man would not be a good or safe decision. I’m excited for her to escape and find myself inwardly cheering that she’s going to facilitate her own escape and run away. Who knows what possibilities await her? The hope is palpable.


On Becoming A Beast

“I didn’t escape one beast to be possessed by another.”

Killing the Beast, Christina Rosso, She is A Beast


During her escape attempt, she is captured by ‘the beast’. At this point it would be easy for me to throw up my hands in despair. This echoes my own life experiences of trying to strike out on my own. I escaped domestic violence and during my journey to freedom was sexually assaulted. The faulty wiring in my brain tried to convince me that I must be attracting this behaviour. It took me years to understand this wasn’t true. Subsequently, I’ve come to the same conclusion as the quote above. Possession feels like the key word here and being self-possessed is a key to unlock empowerment.

This is the language of survival. Rosso strips out the Stockholm Syndrome from the usual telling of this story. She removes the talking teacups and withering roses. Survival comes at a great cost. Desperation forces difficult decisions. It leaves me asking myself: what have I done to ensure my own survival. Does it make me a beast? I think maybe it does. I’m okay with that.

She’s No Saint

“Choosing and trapping a husband is similar business; you must be graceful, fearless, and make sure he never sees you
coming. You must make him believe you are the prey and he the predator, the lamb brought willingly to slaughter.”

A Husband by Midnight, Christina Rosso, She is A Beast

Art by Jeremy Gaulke


This intriguing illustration by Jeremy Gaulke is a perfect example of the complex values at play in A Husband by Midnight. I always found Cinderella sympathetic. The plight of an orphan daughter, pining for her dead father tugged at my heartstrings. It’s interesting that Rosso chooses this tale to retell simply because the well known Disney version is an explicit example of internalised misogyny. Even in modern retellings, such as Ever After, the immediate source of cruelty and imposing of patriarchal standards is a charge led by women.

In this version, we are immediately apprised that Cinderella is no saint. In the illustration she is doing her duty, performing chores. On her hands and knees she is symbolically below her stepmother and sisters. However, it becomes clear that she’s simply biding her time. The glass and books on her head point to her internal focus of achieving a higher status. She’s on the hunt for a husband and in explicit detail lets the reader know her plans. Not above using her virginity and modest appearance as currency, this is another woman looking to survive. Though it is decidedly different than Belle’s tactic, it is no less powerful.

The question murmurs beneath the subtext, causing the reader to reflect. Is she a beast? What would I do in her situation?


In Conclusion

I’ve chosen to highlight only two stories, because there is simply too much material in this collection to cover in the space of a review. She is A Beast, is a necessary text in the growing canon of feminist fairy tales. It challenges the notions of good and evil. These lines blur in the face of desperation and survival.

Rosso is not afraid to face the hard truth that survival is not pretty. Often when women survive abuse they are asked: why did you stay? I have always believed this is the wrong question. The better question is: how did you survive? The women in these stories echo behaviour that survivors can understand. There is no one else coming to save them. These women are taking charge in whatever ways they can, given the climate and society they live within.

She is A Beast, by Christina Rosso, is available to purchase through APEP Publications.


About the Author

CHRISTINA ROSSO lives and writes in South Philadelphia with her rescue pup, Atticus Finch, and bearded husband, Alex. Together they run an independent bookstore and event space called A Novel Idea on Passyunk. In 2016, Christina received an MFA in Creative Writing and MA in English from Arcadia University. Her writing has been featured in FIVE:2:ONE Magazine, Digging Through the Fat, Ellipsis Zine, and more. She is a Beast is her first book.


About the Press

APEP PUBLICATIONS was founded in 2012 in Yakima, WA. What started as a series of small zines illustrated by its founder evolved over the years into a line of poetry, art, and literary publications featuring a variety of artists.

APEP books and zines are designed, printed and assembled by hand in Chewsville, MD.


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