I really don’t like the colour purple. I mean I really, really don’t like it. In fact, it makes me cringe. Which is why I kept passing over Rainey Royal by Dylan Landis – that cover, all purpley and Ishka-ey, everything I hate. But somewhere along the way I read a super review, so I popped over to NetGalley and read the blurb. Okay, it sounded interesting and I figured that as an ARC on my Kindle, I wouldn’t have to look at any purple.
And I’m very glad I did read Rainey Royal.
The story is set in Greenwich Village in the 1970s and centres around fourteen-year-old Rainey Royal. Rainey lives with her father, Howard, a celebrated jazz musician who runs the household like a cult – as well as a transient population of musicians, her father’s best friend, Gordon, also lives in the house *cue inappropriate behaviour*. Surrounded by music and free-love, Rainey tries to forge her own way, grappling with the boundaries (or lack thereof) of friendships, authority and family.
I’ve read a few books about vulnerable girls this year (notably Tony Hogan, Just_A_Girl and Animals), all of which have left me feeling vaguely anxious and uncomfortable – I reflect on my own life at a similar age and wonder how much chance played in my choices (because I don’t feel like common sense was in abundance) and if I’d made different (poorer) choices, would life had taken a wildly different path?
Incidentally, none of the female characters in any of these stories classed themselves as ‘vulnerable’ and each demonstrated that while the ‘weapons’ of destruction may change (crime in 1970s New York to party drugs in nineties Manchester to today’s online hook-ups), the issues that the girls were grappling with remain the same – identity, sexuality, relationships. The role of mothers also play a significant part in these stories.
I don’t think I’ve said enough about why this book was a good read. Notably –
- Rainey’s friendships with Tina and Leah are extremely well executed, rich with power-shifts, believable dialogue and all the important stuff between teenage girls that is left unsaid.
- Landis gives the perfect amount of detail to create a sense of place without feeling as if you’re being ‘told’ how Greenwich Village in the seventies was.
- Lastly, I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about how attitudes to sexual assault have changed during my lifetime – this book, in combination with a play I saw and something that author Sonya Hartnett said at her Melbourne Writers Festival presentation has left me wondering (but more on that another time).
I received my copy of Rainey Royal from the publisher, Soho Press, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
3.5 Harrowing but compelling.
Rainey and Tina make zucchini muffins (for their dinner). I love savoury muffins – the baked equivalent of ‘indulgence salads’ (you know when you say you’re having a salad for lunch but it’s actually a Caesar salad? That. In this case, you don’t feel quite so bad about the mid-afternoon muffin because it has vegetables in it *ignore the cheese and butter*).