Book Review: 'Roving Pack,' by Sassafras Lowrey

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Book Review: 'Roving Pack,' by Sassafras Lowrey

“I told him that we all grow up and realize that things need to make sense in the world and that sometimes the way that we live just isn’t translatable.”

Sassafras Lowrey, editor of the much praised Kicked Out anthology in 2010, now brings us the world of Click, a genderqueer straight-edge kid living in Portland in the early 2000s, and the other gutterpunk queers who make up hir pack. It’s a world of struggling to find stable places to live, of time spent at the Queer Youth Resource Center, modeled after Portland’s own SMYRC, of zines, of sex of all varieties, of finding your own family but having to still deal with the shit of your bio one, of tattoos, of dogs, of pronouns and binding, of deciding whether or not to take T. It’s a story about queer youth who have been kicked out of their homes, but it’s also a fascinating reflection on the fluidity and boundaries of gender. And like all other stories that have ever existed, it’s a love story, as all Click really desires, and has a hard time finding, is a good leather Daddy who will make hir their boy.

It’s also unlike any story I’ve ever read before, and I have read many, many books about queer youth—and therein lies its point, and the problem. It becomes quickly clear that for the people in Click’s roving pack, it’s not only the straight world that’s alienating and offensive, but the mainstream life of the gays, as well. The people who sing in gay choirs and support corporate gay prides and fight for “equality,” they too look upon Click and those like him with a mixture of condescension, disgust, and confusion, with an overall question always lingering in their minds: “What are you?”

This question in particular plagues Click wherever ze goes. Not a pure transgender kid, not a pure butch dyke, not a gay man, ze is somewhere in between. It’s not that ze isn’t any of these things, but perhaps a little bit of all of them. Which, of course, shouldn’t be a real problem, but to the binary world it often is. The constant need to be defined--even by others within the pack—starts to wear on hir. As ze says, “I’m so sick of having to explain that I’m more complicated than I look.”

Stereotypes about street kids are quickly dispelled. For instance, they’re not all drug addicts. While Click is the only one in the pack who’s strictly straight-edge, most of the rest are sober, or in some state of recovery. They’re not all lazy and violent. Sure, they can be violent when they’re protecting themselves or their pack, but that’s plain biological instinct. But the fact that Click’s main love of hir life is hir dogs shows the warmth and the sensitivity ze exudes. One of my favorite lines of the books was this: “They always ask about how hard it is not to have parents. Shit, parents are easy to live without, it’s my dogs I miss the most. No one understand that.”

There are parts of this book that are tough, inevitably. It’s tough to see Click taken advantage of, as ze learns the hard way that not all Daddies are good Daddies. It’s tough to see Click’s autonomy violated, at the doctor’s, by strangers, by his bio family. It’s tough to understand the constant threat of violence these kids live with. The ending also left me with a certain sadness in my gut for Click. But it’s not all tough. There’s a lot of triumph, and a lot of love.

And overall, from the first page on, I mainly thought, how exciting, and how empowering, that a whole population of kids will now be able to see themselves reflected, at last, in the pages of a book. I’m sure there are other novels about homeless queer youth out there, although I’m equally sure the numbers aren’t enough. But I doubt if any of them contain the grit, courage, depth, and truth that comes with Click’s tale, full of an honesty that can only result from an author who understands hir world thoroughly. (I also highly doubt there’s any other with as much leather play.) This is an important book, and I can’t wait for it to reach the hands of those who need it.

Roving Pack will be released in October; you can find out more and pre-order a copy at RovingPack.com.