Anatomy Of A Girl Gang by Ashley Little is a beautifully crafted book of fiction about five young women who form an all-girl gang called the Black Roses in the downtown east side of Vancouver, Canada.
The leader of the Black Roses is Mac, a pretty blonde who left home at a young age because of the difficulty she had living amongst her mother’s relentless addiction troubles. Mac sees herself as the mastermind of the gang, and the rest of the girls understand that ultimately all decisions are finalized by her.
Mercy, a self-described “Punjabi princess” with killer fashion sense, is Mac’s best friend. Her mother was killed in a car accident when she was only a toddler, and her father was also killed when she was still very young. Mercy has an uncanny knack for theft, and is known for being able to “lift” pretty much anything she wants, including cars, high-end clothing and jewelery, and electronics.
Kayos is sixteen, with beautiful red hair, and a love for martial arts. Kayos has some big secrets though, including the fact that the three-year-old girl her gang believes is her little sister, is actually her daughter. The truth about her daughter’s conception (that her step-father is actually the biological father) is something not even her mother knows, and it creates a lot of pent up rage within her.
Sly Girl is a thirteen-year-old Native girl who ran away from the abuse she endured on her reserve, living on the streets and becoming addicted to heroin before hooking up with the Black Roses. Because of her past, she becomes the Black Roses’ go-to drug slinger.
And finally, there’s Z – a Chinese graffiti artist who escapes the pressures of her demanding home life by immersing herself in the risks of painting her city in beautiful tags that promote the Black Roses and let’s everyone know they’re the real deal.
Anatomy Of A Girl Gang follows the Black Roses right from its conception, when Mac and Mercy break off from a violent gang of men they worked for in order to start their own gang and so-called “business”. With each gang girl’s voice getting the chance to alternate between each chapter, we get to bear witness to each of their recruitments into the gang, the highs and lows of gang life from their differing perspectives, and the major situations they get themselves in (which vary between heart warming, brave, ridiculous, and downright disturbing in more ways than one). It’s when the Black Roses come home to find their little house ransacked and robbed of every valuable item in their possession (including the hundreds of thousands of dollars they’d been saving up over the year to buy a condo and get out of the gang life) that the story takes a major turn and takes the reader plunging head first toward the end of the book, and ultimately, the end of the Black Roses. The scheme the girls devise in order to make back all the money they lost in one shot involves Kayos’s “baby sister”, and on the surface it seems to them nothing short of genius and foolproof, but of course could only ever end with dire consequences.
I absolutely devoured this book. The description on the back refers to it as “a literal punch to the throat” and that is exactly what it was. The voices of these five girls were bold and felt so real I could almost hear them whispering their thoughts in my ear as I turned page after page. Each Black Rose was a complex, well-thought out, and eerily realistic character, and I don’t think many writers could have pulled these girls’ particular voices off quite as gorgeously as Ashley Little has. It’s hard to pick a favourite character, but I think for me it was a tie between Kayos and Mercy, though Sly Girl was definitely the best written and was the one to offer some semblance of bitter sweet hope at the end of the book.
All in all, Anatomy Of A Girl Gang by Ashley Little tells a story about women that is not commonly told, filled with characters who are fearless, a little bit feral, and way harder than any teenager girl should ever be. Yet, it’s a touching story, and the characters remain sympathetic despite their lifestyle. This is the sort of contemporary literature I love to see being written for women, about women, and by women. I can’t recommend this book enough.