________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 12 . . . .February 18, 2005


Mosh Pit.

Kristyn Dunnion.
Calgary, AB: Red Deer Press, 2004.
270 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 0-88995-292-2.

Subject Headings:
Lesbian teenagers-Juvenile fiction.
Punk culture-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.

Review by Darleen Golke.

**1/2 /4



Partway into [Cuntagion's] set, I noticed Cherry in the middle of the pit, slamming and sweating away to the onslaught of drums and guitars. Every now and then I'd see her ripped leather vest with the giant glittery cherries on the back, before it melded with the rest of the punx. I pushed my way into the pit, got shoved into a mass of bone and leather, caught a glimpse of her, then lost it. The heat from all those thrashing bodies washed over me and I pogoed around, taking hits on all sides - not in a bad way, mind. A crash and a body check in there was like a smile and handshake at the office water cooler for other people. If you fell, someone pulled you back up. If you went flying too far back into the rows of people behind the pit, the standing-around-and-rocking-out-but-not-moshing people, they'd just give you a little push, back into the fray. Mosh pit etiquette, like.

So one more body check and I landed almost beside Cherry. She was yelling out lyrics like everyone else. My adrenaline soared with the screaming guitars and I slammed into her. She grabbed me in a bear hug and lifted me up, up. The bottle I had went flying. We worked our way to the stage, taking out everyone on the way. Deep in the pit I felt no pain. The music was so loud up there by the speakers, it beat through our chests, moved blood to its rhythm. Music sand-blasted its way through all those layers of anger, confusion, frustration; it blew the hate right out of you, stripped you of all your petty failures, the endless disappointments and hurts that choked you the rest of your waking hours. Amid the barrage of body parts, in the steaming heat and noise, I offered up my body, my soul, to punkrawk salvation.


Seventeen-year-old Simone brashly wears punk clothing, sports a Mohawk hairdo, and displays assorted piercings to advertise her rebelliousness. She lives with her "distracted, vulnerable" mother in the Tomb, an apartment that she calls the "postcard for pharmaceutical success." When her friend and love interest, Cherry, decides to drop out of school, the underage girls, "dolled up beyond recognition," celebrate "Cherry's Prom" night by conning their way into Satan's Playhouse where drugs and booze flow freely and Cuntagion's music "rawks." The celebration ultimately precipitates the separation between them when Cherry takes up with a dealer, Vincent, and spirals downward into addiction and crime as Simone watches, unable to save her friend. "If partying was a national sport, then Cherry is in Olympic training," Simone observes; however, initially she continues to accompany Cherry on her rampage, watching and trying to protect her, until she finally realizes that Cherry is and always has used her for her own selfish needs and desires. In a climactic scene, Simone attempts a final rescue but fails and watches Cherry crash, both literally and figuratively. Reflecting on their relationship, Simone concludes, "I had lived off the sparks that Cherry generated, lapped them up greedily, and complained only when they burnt me more than I liked or in ways I hadn't imagined. I made her my proxy and then felt betrayed when she veered off on a course that excluded me."

     Simone's journey of awareness takes her to clubs and bars; to after-hours parties and biker hangouts; to a job for an "internet porn site;" and to a violent attack from Officer Steve, "the hulking psychopathetic pig." She finds acceptance and friendship from a gay couple, from a burned-out guitarist, from fellow students like transsexual Carlotta and her boyfriend, and from sexy teen prostitute, Carol, with whom Simone enjoys her first real "date" and genuinely satisfying sexual experience. Simone recognizes that Carol, Carlotta and Pretty Boi all work hard and have "ideas and dreams" for after graduation, that they have learned to avoid conflict, to "fly under the radar," and not to "rattle the cages" of the "administrative wieners." With their encouragement, she resolves to attend an alternative school in the fall and "move through something new and be changed by it."

     Dunnion's first novel for children, Missing Matthew (2003), received accolades for its sensitive yet humourous story about friendship and loss. In Mosh Pit, Dunnion, a Toronto Tenant Advocate by day and Miss Kitty Galore, a "trash-talking high-femme" performance artist by night, again examines friendship and loss. However, this gritty narrative highlights rebellious urban youth rushing headlong into dangerous and destructive behaviours while trying to make sense of their complicated and difficult lives. In a recent interview with Samantha Sarra, Dunnion describes her novel as a "queer punk rock love tragedy" that has "the mandate of sex, drugs and rock and roll." Sex, drugs, addiction, homelessness, violence, crime, mental illness, dysfunctional families, and the like form the backdrop against which Simone's journey to self-awareness unfolds. As narrator, Simone emerges as a sympathetic central character whose vulnerability contrasts with her butch demeanor as she navigates through the rough waters of her physical and emotional choices. The lively and fast-paced prose flows smoothly and is imbued with the profanity-rich language of streetwise youth and with graphic scenes and realistic dialogue. Intertwined with the plot are 14 "Cherry's Blog" online entries recording her activities and feelings. Each blog concludes with a "Mood" note and a "Music" note that features Dunnion's music choices—the novel's soundtrack.

     Having only the vaguest understanding of what constituted a mosh pit, I investigated before assessing Dunnion's description and concluded that it oozes with authenticity. According to the selection quoted above and the websites I visited, a mosh pit apparently is not about violence and aggression, but about community and comradeship.

     Mosh Pit, as Dunnion herself candidly admits, "will never make it on the school list." However, special collections in academic and public libraries may wish to include it with their resources as a "queer punk love" story. Dunnion writes with verve and passion, and the novel will no doubt find an audience among empathetic young people.

Recommended with Reservations.

Darleen Golke is a "between-assignments" librarian living in Abbotsford, BC.

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

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