Anatomy of a Girl Gang
By Ashley Little. Arsenal Pulp Press, 256 pp, softcover
It’s sometimes difficult to see through the blinding mist, but Vancouver isn’t just famous for its enviable bounty of condos, yoga pants, and artisanal doughnuts. The City of Glass has problems, too, and back in 2010, our coastal utopia was named the Gang Capital of Canada (an honour that drifts from place to place like the guilty conscience of the Economist’s “most livable city” ranking). The ensuing media frenzy inspired Ashley Little’s third novel, Anatomy of a Girl Gang, which offers a brash, no-holds-barred portrayal of gangster life—in a gang of teenage girls.
Mac, the book’s self-styled OG, dreams up the Black Roses after her best friend Mercy’s brief, involuntary stint in prostitution for a gang called the Vipers. Seeking to escape servitude, she and Mercy unceremoniously quit the Vipers and round up three others for their fledgling criminal outfit: Kayos, Z, and Sly Girl. With the silent backing of Mac’s biker gang uncle, the Black Roses get matching tattoos, declare themselves “the city’s worst nightmare”, and jump into a frenzied life of robbing ATMs, slinging drugs, jacking cars, and holding their ground, often with truly shocking brutality.
This isn’t the first novel to explore the world of female gangs—some props are due to Joyce Carol Oates’s Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang, the much-loved story of a 1950s gang who dealt in feminist vengeance. But where Foxfire members openly targeted their male oppressors with acts of vigilantism, the Black Roses are cocky enough to feel they can go mano a mano to beat gang members at their own game. “Bad bitches don’t die,” proclaims one character in a moment of twisted girl power–like cheerleading. If only that were true.
The girls take turns telling the Black Roses’ story through vernacular, diary-style entries, and Little does a commendable job of uncomfortably juxtaposing their teenage immaturity with their sometimes gruesome criminal violence. But because all five receive equal airtime, this short book offers a fairly superficial understanding of the character of each. There’s a sixth narrator, too—Vancouver. But the city’s omniscient, poetic ramblings feel indulgent and unnecessary. These independent women could tell their own story without the hand of God pointing the reader in the right direction.
Nonetheless, Anatomy of a Girl Gang is a daring book. It doesn’t flinch from the glamorous lure of gang life or its devastating effects, and through it all, Little’s gang really owns it: their glories and tragedies are completely their own. In the end, they’re nothing if not real gangsters.
Ashley Little’s Anatomy of a Girl Gang will be launched at the Penthouse Night Club on November 13.