The literary debut by Toronto singer-songwriter Sara Taylor (who fronts the band the Birthday Massacre) follows a teenage girl’s struggle to fit in, her discovery of metal music, and involvement in a band – oh, and a brief killing spree. The novel is a charmingly different take on the typical coming-of-age story; except for some graphic violence, it might be described as a crossover YA title.
Suburban high-school student Rachel floats friendless through her classes, experiences bullying at the hands of popular girl Brandi, and struggles to placate her overbearing parents. Rachel’s vague outcast status and alienation from her more “normal” peers make her a character who is easy to empathize with.
A chance introduction to metal, overheard from a car stereo, gives Rachel a new outlet by which to communicate her silent angst, vindicating and assuaging her feelings of otherness. She quickly discovers her niche by investigating various metal bands and finding a new group of friends – including best friend Fern – from a different school. The girls start a band of their own, hilariously named Colostomy Hag.
In spare, quick-moving prose, Taylor unfolds a story that does not delve too deeply into the relationships between its characters (Rachel’s sister is barely mentioned and her parents are underdeveloped), and a large portion of the book seems like a laundry list lending necessary backstory and documentation leading up to the plot’s climax. Told retrospectively in the first person, Rachel’s narrative is conveyed in simple, literal, and chronological terms.
This is not to say that the story doesn’t make for a worthy read. Taylor’s writing is especially strong during a sickening, emotion-filled rape scene and its aftermath. Rachel and Fern emerge from this experience conflicted and scarred, seeking retribution, but also possessed of a deep, unspoken bond. Elsewhere, the author’s obvious familiarity with the specifics of touring in a metal band shines through: the depictions of dingy venues, DIY recording, and the terror of playing to a room of 20 people who couldn’t care less about your music all feel absolutely authentic.
After the sluggish early chapters, readers will find that the narrative improves as the story gains passion and momentum in its latter third. The sometimes gory subject matter and a fresh perspective on a music scene not frequently covered in works of fiction will definitely serve as a draw.