BookPage Fiction Top Pick, May 2015
It’s a regular day in New York City. The subways are running, people are getting coffee and listening to headphones and going about their business. Then, in one seemingly isolated incident, a woman with blonde hair lashes out and kills without reason. As it turns out, the incident is not isolated at all.
In Emily Schultz’s third novel, The Blondes, the world succumbs to a mysterious, rabies-like pandemic that causes people to attack and kill at random. But it’s not everyone who is affected by the disease: It’s women. And not all women, but blonde women—both those who’ve colored their hair and those who were born blonde. Suddenly, the preferred hair hue for starlets, beach babes and Barbie dolls is dangerous and nearly forbidden. Women shave, color and cover their hair to try to stem the disease’s spread.
In the midst of these events, our main character, Hazel Hayes, tries to cope with a breakup and a pregnancy. She wants to get out of New York and go home to Canada, but the world is suspicious of women, and she faces literal attacks (from “Blonde Fury” victims), plus discrimination and paranoia.
Clearly, The Blondes touches on themes of gender identity and politics, broaching topics of adultery, pregnancy, abortion, gender studies, myths about female hysteria, menstruation prejudices and female portrayal in media. But the book delves deeper than hot-button issues and talking points to explore what happens when women turn against other women, what we do when we feel out of control and the choice of whether to stand aside when someone needs help or to hold out a hand.
Schultz handles all these themes masterfully, and that alone is impressive, but what really makes the novel great isn’t the gender politics—it’s the story. Hazel’s journey is outwardly terrifying and inwardly harrowing at the same time, creating a narrative we want to follow and a character we truly care about.
The Blondes is the book you can’t put down; it’s also the book you can’t stop thinking about after you do.