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Review of "Like the Red Panda"

By Andrea Seigel
Harvest Books, 2004
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Oct 6th 2004
Like the Red Panda

When Stella was in the sixth grade, her parents held a birthday party for her and died from accidental drug overdoses during the party.  They were regular users.  Stella got sent to foster parents, Simon and Shana Roth, who have never loved her.  Now that she is set to graduate from high school and go to Princeton in the fall, Stella doesn't think she will ever see them again after she leaves home.  Now that she is ready to leave high school, it no longer matters to her and she stops caring about her classes.  In fact, in a deadpan sort of way, she does not care about her future at all.  She does not love anyone and she feels no real connection with others.  She has a boyfriend, but it is just sex between them.  Strangely, the person she feels closest to is the most aggravating person she knows: her grandfather, Donald, who has always been unpleasant to her and is now in a residential home hating his declining years.  He hasn't even got the strength to kill himself.  Stella goes out of her way to visit Donald even though he continues to be angry and ungrateful.  Maybe one of the few acts of care she can contemplate is helping Donald do what his is unable to do by himself. 

Like the Red Panda is a strange novel, because Stella's family history and her senioritis don't go far to explain her interest in death.  She is alienated from her life and she does not feel pride at her achievements or pleasure at the prospect of finally escaping from her foster parents.  She has social skills but she does not have any close friends; she has stopped going to some of her classes, but she does to others and she can't even be bothered to fully drop out from school.  Everything seems equally pointless.  The story chronicles her last two weeks of high school in diary form, with contemplations of her life full of the darkest humor. 

Stella clearly is going through a crisis, but it is low-key and confused, and until the end of the novel the reader gets little sense of how extreme it is.  Alienation is a common experience for young people in large high schools with dysfunctional families, but most people get through it.  So the conclusion of the novel is something of a surprise, and may leave the reader bemused.  Nevertheless, Like the Red Panda is a well-crafted work and Stella is a narrator with subtle charisma. 


© 2004 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.


Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Review.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.

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