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It Ain’t Easy Being Ginger

Author (and redhead) Alison Cherry discusses the pros and cons of segregation by hair color.

It Ain’t Easy Being Ginger

Join us in welcoming Alison Cherry back to the Smarty Pants stage! You may remember her as a bit of a minstrel, and now she's written her own fabulous slice of YA fiction.

My debut novel, Red, takes place in Scarletville, a small town in Iowa that was founded as America's first redhead sanctuary. As such, a person's social status in Scarletville is determined largely by the redness of his or her hair—the redder, the better. Blondes and brunettes are considered unimportant, and even strawberry blondes—otherwise known as "strawbies"—are seen as second-class citizens.

Red's main character, Felicity St. John, has the reddest hair at Scarletville High. It has earned her a hot, athletic boyfriend, a group of loyal friends, and a good shot at winning the Miss Scarlet Pageant and the prize money that comes with it. But Felicity also has a secret: her bright, coppery red hair color comes straight out of a bottle at the town's underground hair salon, Rouge-o-Rama. And when a brunette classmate discovers her secret and starts blackmailing her, Felicity's easy life turns into a nightmare.

Though the subject of my book has generated rampant speculation on the subject, I really am a natural redhead. (And while we're dispelling rumors, YES, Cherry is my real last name.) I was lucky enough not to be teased about my hair color growing up, but while I was writing this book, I still thought a lot about how my life would be different if I lived in Scarletville. Here are the top six ways things would change for me and my fellow redheads if we were relocated to a ginger-filled town:

1) In Scarletville, it would be easy to disappear into a crowd. This is not so in the real world. Hard as I may try, I absolutely cannot blend into my surroundings. This is great when friends are trying to find me in a crowded bar or convention center, but it is less awesome when my conspiracy-theorist neighbor is walking toward me on the street or my ex-boyfriend is behind me in line at Starbucks.

2) In Scarletville, redheads aren't stereotyped or exoticized. People who only know two or three redheads have an easy time making blanket statements like, "Ginger have such hot tempers" or "Redheaded women are soooo sexy." But it would be quite a bit harder to say such things if nearly everyone you knew had red hair. There's pretty much no statement about redheads that would hold true if you had to apply it to the last four people you dated, your dentist, your accountant, your landlady, your rabbi, the woman who bags your groceries, your boss, the garbage man, and fourteen of your family members.

3) In Scarletville, amenities for redheads would be easy to find. Hot pink and orange would never be the "in" colors in clothing stores. It would be a snap to find concealer light enough to match our absurdly pale skin. There would be sunblock and parasol vendors at all outdoor events. It would be the fashion to go to the beach in a long-sleeved t-shirt.

4) In Scarletville, redheaded men are sought after. In the real world, ginger men have a hard time of it, especially in the UK. While redheaded women are often seen as glamorous, their male counterparts are sometimes considered ridiculous. I recently saw a fascinating documentary called "Being Ginger" by Scott Harris, who filmed his quest to find love as a redheaded man in Scotland. Once he was walking in the park, and he saw a bald man who looked as if he had been undergoing chemotherapy. As the man passed, Harris heard him say to his friends, "Well, at least I'm not ginger."


5) In Scarletville, red hair doesn't make you memorable or special. When I'm having a meeting with someone in person for the first time, I never have to lurk near the door of the coffee shop, saying, "Um, excuse me, are you Bob?" over and over until I find the right person. I can just tell Bob to find the girl with the blazing red hair, get myself some coffee, and read while I wait. If it's laundry day and I can't seem to pull together an interesting outfit, it doesn't matter—I have a bright, flashy accessory attached to my head! And best of all, I can't tell you how many friends I've made at book events and writers conferences because people recognized me from Twitter and came over to say hi. I'm a pretty introverted person, and reaching out to strangers is often hard for me, so I'm extremely grateful to my red hair for eliminating that awkward first step.

Felicity can have Scarletville. I'm staying right here.

Stay tuned for the FYA review of Alison's novel!