________________ CM . . . . Volume XX Number 25. . . .February 28, 2014


Anatomy of a Girl Gang: A Novel.

Ashley Little.
Vancouver, BC: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2013.
253 pp., pbk. & epub, $16.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-55152-529-7 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55152-530-3 (epub).

Grades 7-12 / Ages 12-17.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.

**** /4



Í got up and walked toward him, avoiding his eyes. When I got close enough, he grabbed my left hand and brought it to his lips, kissing me in the web between my thumb and first finger. Then he put the end of his cigarette on the place he’d kissed and held it there.

Fuck, C! I jerked my hand away, but he held it tight. The smell of my searing flesh flipped my stomach, and for a second I thought I’d puke all over him, but I looked into his eyes instead, and made my gaze stone-hard.

After about a thousand years, he let go of my hand. He looked from me to Mercy to Vex. He shrugged, and Vex nodded.

Well, what the fuck are you waiting for? Take your shit and get the fuck out of here, he yelled. Don’t ever come back! Don’t try to contact us, any of us – ever. Don’t acknowledge us if we pass you on the street. You two are dead to us now. You’re on your own, you dirty orphans. Now, get out!

Vex held the door open.

Mercy and I picked up our stuff – two suitcases and two backpacks between us. We walked out the door, holding our heads high. That night, we crashed at a crack house that was open to anyone brave enough to go inside. It was so disgusting: you’d throw up if I told you about it. We had to sleep in shifts, one of us always awake, to make sure the crackies stayed off of us. I woke up near dawn to Mercy tugging at my hair.

Sorry. Just getting a roach out.

I rolled over and covered my ears to block out the sounds of people moaning, humping, tripping, fiending. I could smell the blood and shit-stained mattress through my sleeping bag, and promised myself I would never do this again.

The next day, I insisted that we splurge for a room at the Cambie. We had about a grand in savings between us. We spent fifty bucks for two beds with clean blankets, a desk, a lamp, a shared kitchen, a bathroom, and a laundry room. It was worth every penny. Everything smelled like bleach, and it was wonderful. I just needed some time to think. Make a plan.


Mac and Mercy want to distance themselves from a gang known as the Vipers, and so the two girls decide to create their own gang. Mac is the leader and authority figure of this new group, and Mercy the ‘Punjabi princess’, with her skills of theft and shoplifting, is her top assistant. The gang grows to include Kayos who is known for her muscle and fighting spirit, Sly Girl who is a First Nations youth who knows everything there is to know about street drugs and Z, a Chinese-Canadian graffiti artist whose mandate within the gang is to give the girls, a.k.a. the Black Roses some publicity in Vancouver’s tough neighbourhood known as the Downtown Eastside. With their abilities to boost cars, steal money, shoplift and deal drugs, the gang is soon successful and a force to be reckoned with. Eventually fate steps in, and virtually all of their assets and money are stolen, leaving the gang at a crossroads and forcing them into a decision which will make or break their reputation and, in fact, the members of the gang, itself.

     Ashley Little spent years doing intensive research for this novel, and the results are spectacular in a tough and gritty way. Each girl has her own voice, and chapters are written from the points of view of each gang member as well as the city of Vancouver, itself. Readers come to understand the backgrounds of the gang members, and this information helps readers see how each of them comes to be living on the street, away from abusive situations of various sorts. They are tough girls who use tough language and whose innate reactions are aggressive. Yet, Little also reveals that they are still fairly young teens who are struggling to find somewhere to belong. Yes, they are both greedy and impulsive as many young people often are, but who doesn’t want some pretty clothes and a warm and friendly place to live? While each girl is escaping a former unhappy reality, all she really wants is somewhere she is treated with the dignity and respect that she was unable to find at home or at school. The authenticity and harshness of this novel are both disturbing and brutally honest. Little’s readers will see, smell and hear the worst of what living on the street has to offer. Abuse, assault of various kinds, addiction – all are commonplace on the Vancouver streets where the story takes place. It is interesting that one of Little’s characters is the city of Vancouver, itself, which watches over the actions of those in its streets occasionally with admiration and occasionally with worry, yet never interferes with its citizens, choosing only to be an observer: “Thousands of intersections turn silver in the rain. I watch over all the meetings, accidental and planned, at these glimmering crossroads. Some of them change lives forever.” (p. 134)

     Reading Anatomy of a Girl Gang is rather like being on some sort of crazy carnival ride. You are mesmerized by action that grabs you, turns you upside down and inside out, and yet keeps you hanging on even when you sense it will all disintegrate and end in disaster. Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside may seem very far away and foreign in some respects, and yet it is all too real in many ways. The struggle for respect from others and the desire for a safe and happy environment are basic human needs which we all attempt to fulfill as best we can. Ashley Little’s novel is dark and often disturbing, but, in the final analysis, it is absolutely human and a must-read for anyone striving to understand more of the human condition.

Highly Recommended.

Ann Ketcheson, a retired high school teacher-librarian and teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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