It’s been a good long while since I reviewed a novel with a heavy metal theme. Today, I’ve got a doozy – Boring Girls, a YA psychological thriller that takes place within a hyper-realistic metal scene. Written by Sarah Taylor – better known as Chibi from the chart-topping avant-garde gothic act The Birthday Massacre – Boring Girls follows the story of Rachel, a typical teen facing isolation who finds herself in heavy metal, but has to learn to deal with power struggles and misogyny within the scene. Her way of dealing escalates into the ultimate act of violence … murder.
I read Boring Girls in a couple of days. Taylor’s style is very readable, and Rachel is an engaging – if not always likeable – character. This definitely reads as a YA book, but it’s very dark, ending in a bloodthirsty act from which neither Rachel, nor anyone in her life, can turn back from. Throughout the novel, Rachel battles both physically and mentally against people and situations that try to break her.
What struck me as a female metalhead was how – even though I found Rachel’s descent into violent revenge unsettling – I could see a lot of my own experiences in hers. Being an outcast at school, being treated like I didn’t have a voice because I was a woman or weird or whatever, and finding power in metal music.
Probably every female metalhead has some similar experiences to relate. Rachel’s first encounter with the boy Craig, who dismisses her with a sneer because he doesn’t think a girl could be into metal, and her humiliation at not being able to come up with something witty to say … oh gods, that is me. The way she is patronised and jeered at by people within the scene … it has a familiar ring to it. It’s part of that lifelong lesson that just because you have this awesome music in common, doesn’t mean you’re going to like everyone, or that metalheads can’t be assholes (although personally, I’ve met significantly fewer asshole metalheads than asshole normal folk).
The abuse Rachel and Fern suffer from members of the band DED might also be familiar to some – the way the men come at them with that attitude of entitlement, of utter disregard for them as people. It’s a sickening scene in the book, powerfully captured, and probably painful familiar to many female readers. I know what it’s like to stand or lie before someone threatening you, eyes squeezed shut, wishing you could hold back tears, wishing you had some way to get out, to stand up for yourself, but feeling nothing but panic and fear and humiliation.
So much of this book felt achingly real – the dingy clubs, the tour politics, the fumbling teenage relationships. The fierce friendship between Fern and Rachel contrasts with their disconnect with their own violent actions. By the time the killing starts, you are so utterly consumed by Rachel’s world, you descend along with her.
I wanted so badly for Rachel and Fern to “make it”, I wanted them to use the music to block out the horror of their sexual abuse, but they turned instead to revenge, and in the end, they were consumed by that. Thinking back into the early parts of the book, you can see a lot of foreshadowing, but at the time all I saw was a girl who found solace in metal to deal with the reality of teenage life … I saw myself.
Running through the whole book is the music – the death and grind music that lifts Rachel up when she needs it most, that foreshadows her descent into violence, without resorting to anything resembling blame. The music gives her the power she needs to go on, but what she does with that power is utterly separate from it. I admired this delicate treatment – parents reading this book wouldn’t come away from it wanting to ban their kids listening to death metal.
At it’s heart, Boring Girls is about standing up for yourself, about protecting yourself when no one else will. It’s about claiming back your power – all themes that are prominent in metal music, and all themes that come up again and again in life. The most terrifying part about this book is just how easy it is to identify with Rachel, to find yourself soaked in residual blood when she finally turns into a monster.
Stay tuned – I’ve created a playlist based on some of the themes from the book. All the metal bands in Boring Girls are made up, but I can definitely see some simularities with real life ….
There is no redemption here, no happy ending. Raising your eyes from the final page, you feel a bit like you’ve just come out of a violent mosh pit at a death metal show. You’re disoriented, you’re wounded, and you’re completely sapped of strength. Your eyes are bloodshot, there’s a cut on your cheek, and you’re not 100% certain you actually had fun. But the experience, the journey, was intense, taking you into a part of yourself you don’t often go to, and it was definitely NOT boring.