Vancouver is famous for our temperate rainforest climate, the beautiful mountains and ocean, as well as being called one of the “most liveable cities” in the world. However, the city also has unaffordable housing costs for many residents, is called the Gang Capital of Canada, and also has the poorest postal code in Canada: V6A.
The Downtown Eastside is where many of the homeless population live, as well as marginalized and impoverished people, some of whom are drug users and/or sex-workers. This is the backdrop for Ashley Little‘s Anatomy of a Girl Gang.
A sharply observed novel told in six voices, Anatomy of a Girl Gang is the powerful exploration of a young girl gang in Vancouver called the Black Roses: Mac, the self-appointed leader and mastermind; Mercy, the Punjabi princess with a skill for theft; Kayos, their former classmate who gave birth to a daughter at age thirteen; Sly Girl, who fled her First Nations reserve for a better life, only to find depravity and addiction; and Z, a sixteen-year-old anti-establishment graffiti artist.
Cast out by mainstream society, the five girls terrorize Vancouver with a primal, restless urgency. As they navigate from ATM robberies to cooking crack on the stove to savagely avenging the beating of one of their own, they hope and wait for better days that will turn into a better life, even as the darkness of fate draws inevitably nearer.
Told with shocking and at times brutal honesty, Anatomy of a Girl Gang is a vivid and unnerving story of urban girl culture.
From the publisher, Arsenal Pulp Press
Getting used to the different narrator voices was the most troublesome part of the novel. Anatomy of a Girl Gang is told in alternating diary-style entries from all of the girls in the gang, as well as occasional lyrical entries from the City itself. Z’s chapters eschew traditional grammar and spelling in favour of text speak, whereas Mac and Mercy, as founding members, narrate the majority of the chapters. I didn’t find the activities of the girls or the violence to be particularly shocking, but I did question the ages of the teens in those particular circumstances. The teenage immaturity of the characters is sharply contrasted with the very adult world and activities taking place. But even with the silent backing of Mac’s uncle’s biker gang, the actual ability of the Black Roses to hold any cred or clout on the street required a minor suspension of belief.
The power of the story is in the characters themselves and the gritty portrayal of their situation. Just as when reading PRICK: Confessions of a Tattoo Artist, I found that Ashley Little’s writing really grips you and the non-overt character study is what sticks. The Black Roses are not idyllic, they do not raise themselves up from the streets in a high-handed-moral-redemption story that you may expect for the YA genre, although their lofty goal is to make a ton of money and buy a downtown condo. What is more important is their story as a gang—how they support each other, where they fail because they’re teenagers, or just because humans are flawed, and how they seek to change their situations when faced with very little outside assistance. Little’s treatment of the Black Roses is not didactic, and I think that’s what I appreciated most about the story.