THIS BOOK. Pow.
Not for the squeamish. But so powerful. Anatomy of a Girl Gang was written by Kelowna’s Ashley Little and won the 2014 Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. Congrats Ashley!! The story is told through the alternating perspectives of 5 young girls living in Vancouver’s downtown eastside, a notoriously tough neighbourhood (and also where I happen to work). This novel was particularly moving for me due to my experiences working with marginalized and addicted individuals in the DTES, so much of what she brings to life in this story is what is happening right now this very second in the community to very real and often very ignored people. It rings true in so many ways and is sooo important. Little doesn’t dress anything up, she is harsh and honest and adds a new and badly needed voice to the struggle on those streets.
Mac, Mercy, Kayos, Sly Girl and G come together to form an all girl gang called the Black Roses. Mac is the leader, Mercy is a Punjabi orphan with a knack for theft, Kayos lives with an abusive stepfather and the daughter she had when she was 13 in Shaughnessy (a prominent and wealthy neighbourhood of Vancouver), Sly Girl is a young native girl who fled the Rez in Alberta and came to Vancouver where she ended up wandering Hastings as a homeless addict, and G is a Chinese graffiti writer whose entire sections are written in “text speak” – U no wUt i M seying? Together they establish themselves on the street as boosters, dealers and chicks not to be messed with. The pace is fast and the voices are unique and readable. It took me a bit of braining to get through the text speech (maybe that’s a sign of my age), and found the voices of Mac and Mercy were very similar, but apart from those teensy things felt the multi-narrator approach was a great way to tell the story. Also the City of Vancouver got to throw it’s voice in a few times which was a nice touch.
There is a lot of violence, and definitely some triggering scenes, but nothing was gratuitous or ostentatious about Little’s writing. It was really stripped and sparse (no quotations for dialogue, for example) but filled with vitality and heart. Seriously, I was swept away by this piece of writing and would recommend it to anyone interested in a grittier, more modern take on a classic gang book like the Outsiders. SO GRIM. SO GOOD.
To support independent publishers Arsenal Pulp Press you can order a copy from their website here.