CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 25. . . .February 28, 2014
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.
Ann Ketcheson, a retired high school teacher-librarian and teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.
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