Kristyn Dunnion,
Mosh Pit
(Red Deer, 2004)

"A brutal urban reality that mocks the saccharine sweetness of many teen novels ... teens will devour it, parents will fear it and smart booksellers will stock it." So says Liam O'Donnell of Canadian Bookseller about Kristyn Dunnion's sophomore novel Mosh Pit.

I'll certainly agree with the, "parents will fear it" portion of that statement. This isn't a book I'll be handing to my 12-year-old anytime soon. Then again, I'm not sure to whom I would recommend this novel.

Mosh Pit contains some good writing, although the quality ebbs and flows somewhat. Dunnion has a solid grasp of her main characters. She paints an unflinchingly detailed portrait of the disenfranchised youths who populate the Toronto punk scene. And she's created a protagonist whose conflicted nature makes her truly memorable. But I'm not sure Dunnion had a particular audience in mind when she wrote this book.

How many teenage girls will want to curl up with Mosh Pit and spend time with Simone, the Mohawk-sporting, lesbian punk infatuated with a crack-addicted high school drop-out named Cherry? Which of their own friends will readers feel most resembles Cherry, who seems only to tolerate Simone's affections in order to manipulate and abuse her so-called friend. As Cherry spirals downward into increasingly destructive criminal behavior, will young readers really be anxious to get back to the book? Will they be waiting breathlessly to discover whether Simone will get into the biker boozecan so she can drink herself into oblivion after working her shift with Cherry on the live web-porn site?

Perhaps the comfortably distanced voyeurism this novel provides will have an appeal for some. And certainly there are kids for whom the following passage will ring all too true: "I was going 'home.' What a word for that miserable place. ... The place I visited a couple times a week to change clothes and do laundry. The address I wrote on forms: a number, a street, and a name that only doctors and social workers ever used." But I can't imagine too many such kids searching out this novel so they can escape into a fictional world all too reminiscent of their own plight.

The novel does have a redemptive ending that manages to avoid coming off as preachy. Simone gets her life somewhat more together without sacrificing her punker identity. She discovers that she has a group of friends who appreciate her for who she is. They want her to succeed without wanting to force her to conform to the world's constrictive notions of success. It's an important message, but the gritty package this message is wrapped in may be Mosh Pit's undoing.

- Rambles
written by Gregg Thurlbeck
published 12 March 2005

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