Friday, May 19, 2006

Tangled Rose Vines

Tea, Michelle. Rose of No Man's Land. San Francisco: MacAdam/Cage, 2006.

This book was terribly beautiful. I fell in love with the cover, with its retro styling and two shades of pink, even though the character depicted seems to me a little too sylish to be either of the characters in the book. Of course, I was already in love with Michelle Tea, so I knew I wanted the book long before it came out, and I defied my own policy of avioding hardbacks by purchasing this one at the first opportunity.

Rose of No Man's Land is the story of Trisha, a disaffected young teenager, condensed mostly into one day in early summer, followed by a night of adventures with Rose, her wild new friend. The two share a dangerous evening, demonstrating the scary possibilities for two girls on their own.

I must commend Tea for the intensity of her writing - these girls felt like real, not always likeable, vibrant and complex characters. And their adventures carried the sense of risk, peril, and fear of real life with consequences rather than novelistic mishaps. These girls were dirty, spunky, and a little bit dangerous, both completely independent and youthfully foolish and as a result, everything that happened to them felt dreadfully honest to me, capturing some of the excitement and fear of my own youthful misadventures, however tame they might have been in comparison.

I finished Rose of No Man's Land in a haze - I would have read it through for two days straight until I finished it if I could have, and I almost did. I wanted to share my reactions with the world immediately, but I was also numbed to silence - it didn't feel over to me; I wasn't ready to let the characters go. I needed time to think about them, and thus I was slow to post my response, but I did love this book.

Part of my reaction was questioning who the audience of this book was. With its fourteen-year-old protagonists, it seems to be a young adult book, but it was also so bitter, so cynical, so adult in both content and spirit, that I had to wonder if perhaps it was more appropriate for adults who can appreciate its brilliance. But I also wonder if it isn't good for girls to have characters with the hard, glittery personalities of Trisha and Rose with which to identify. Better, perhaps, than all the stories telling you to conform and be beautiful in such conventional ways. These characters are misfits, with lives that aren't easy, and that in itself is amazing. While I might give children Dangerous Angels or Boy Meets Boy before Rose of No Man's Land (although I'm aware that there's a solid classist critique to that reaction that I'd be delighted to spell out if anyone wants to discuss it), I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this book to anyone who might appreciate a fascinating, complex, emotionally realistic coming-of-age adventure.


Anonymous said...

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