BOTTLE ROCKET HEARTS by Zoe Whittall (Cormorant), 198 pages, $19.95 paper. Rating: NNNN
Bottle Rocket Hearts, the debut novel from NOW contributor Zoe Whittall, is a coming-of-age tale that goes down like a cherry popsicle. It's a delicious, bright suburban delicacy melting in the inner-city sun.
The story, set in Montreal from 1995 to the early spring of 96, encompasses both the referendum and the Montreal Massacre.
Whittall sustains a sensitivity to a Montreal divided not only by English and French, oui et non, but by the increasing visibility of an educated urban class rising up against the staunch old Catholic rule.
Charged by Whittall's feminist voice, the narrative centres around Evie, who starts off smelling like a cupcake and gets more hard-core every day.
When Evie makes the move from her parents' house in the suburb of Dorval to a room with a view in the heart of the bohemian Plateau, she is still a baby, never having experienced heartbreak, loss or discrimination. Her roommates include Rachel, a brilliant grad student and poet, and Seven, a heartbreakingly handsome bartender and drug dealer.
Then there's Della, Evie's sometime girlfriend, who demands all the attention, and fury, worthy of a first love.
Queer kids have to be tough, dangerous and fucking smart to keep from falling over the precipice society puts them on. Evie has to fight for her right to exist on a day-to-day basis in ways other teens do not, and it makes her wise beyond her years.
And because Whittall knows her characters so intimately and speaks the same language they do, she makes the indescribable believable. Her writing makes noises; it has a heartbeat.
This sensitive treatment of a difficult subject will be a classic.
Buy it, read it and then keep it for your daughters.