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Updated: Dec 22, 2023

By Antara Gangwal Dec. 14, 2023

When I read Mona Awad’s sophomore novel “Bunny,” I was left bewildered yet amazed by its seemingly normal premise that quickly unraveled into a nonsensical climax. So, I knew what to expect when reading “Rouge”—and my predictions were correct: after finishing, I was confused as to what actually happened, but still in awe of the story’s emotions and complexity.

“Rouge” unfurls like the petals of the rose on its cover, revealing prickly thorns that illuminate the darkness at the story’s core. The novel follows Mirabelle “Belle” Nour, who returns to her hometown of La Jolla, San Diego, after her mother’s death. Belle discovers a beauty spa called Rouge nestled within La Jolla’s coastal cliffs, one home to tanks of pulsing red jellyfish and bubbly blood-red champagne. As Belle gets caught in the spa’s ominous lure, the story begins to resemble a grim fairy tale with Awad’s signature eccentric twists: a spirit who takes the form of Tom Cruise, beauty treatments that feed on Belle’s trauma, a mysterious skincare-obsessed detective.

The novel’s pacing was extremely slow at first, but I could not stop reading after the halfway mark; Awad’s prose immersed me in Belle’s perspective, unsettlingly chronicling how Rouge’s treatments nearly drive her insane. Each word is intentional, forcing the readers to read between the lines to differentiate symbolism from the story’s true events.

“Rouge” offers sharp commentary on the beauty industry’s sinister depths—yet its critique is not heavy-handed. Rather, the story is so layered that it allows readers to draw their own conclusions, proving more substantial than a surface-level critique. Additionally, the story explores the fraught relationship between Belle and her late mother in a similarly nuanced way. Awad masterfully foils both characters, depicting both the generational trauma yet the unwavering love at the heart of their relationship.

While “Rouge” is only the second novel I have read by Mona Awad, I am already eager to read her others. Amidst the superficial plots plaguing stories today, “Rouge” offers complexity, beautiful prose and utterly human character studies.


About the Contributors

Antara Gangwal

School News and Entertainment Editor

Antara Gangwal is a junior at Leland High School and the School News and Entertainment page editor for The Charger Account. During her free time, she enjoys reading, listening to music and watching the sunset.

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