Rose of No Man’s Land, a young adult novel written by Michelle Tea, was something that I picked up several months ago. Now, this weekend when I was conveniently bedridden with a horrible case of the sniffles and shakes, I picked up the book and started reading. I loved Michelle Tea’s other work; she is one of the few authors I enjoy who is an author that writes like a poet. The word choice in Rose is beautiful, subtle, and very rhythmic, so no complaints there. But this book challenged me on levels that made me uncomfortable, and I’m still not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
Rose of No Man’s Land follows the story of Trisha, a 14 year old girl in an impoverished welfare family. Her mother is a hypochondriac who refuses to leave the couch, her mother’s boyfriend is a deadbeat drunk, her sister is petty and is trying to get on an MTV reality show, and Trisha herself is complacent and passive to the point of frustration, as well as a teenage alcoholic. In the course of the book, which only follows the events of about two days in Trisha’s life, she gets a job, is fired on her first day, meets a girl named Rose, and goes on a wild, drug and alcohol filled adventure with her involving everything from naked photos, tampons, climbing plastic dinosaurs and getting a tattoo.
This novel is not about sex, though there are several strong lesbian love scenes in it. Mainly it’s purpose is to show the transformation of the main character, out of her shell of comfort and into embracing her own personality. Early in the novel Trisha tells about her friends stealing some hairspray, then using a lighter to create fireballs. She never did it however, because she was too scared. But at the end of the book she’s sitting on her porch with her sister, and she has the courage (apparently gleaned from her wild night with Rose) to light the fireball.
This book has many implications for new growth in LGBT literature for young adults, one of the reasons why this book is so controversial. It’s controversial also for its language (VERY strong) and Trisha and Rose’s use of crystal meth, which is pretty hardcore!
Now, I’m all for the controversial and the banned. But it was the character of Trisha herself that challenged me off in this book, personally. I believe (in relation to my previous blog about sexuality in young adult literature) this book did an injustice to what I enjoy most in a story; which is the redemption and reeducation of the primary character. There is no redemption or no reconciliation between the family members, there is no consequence for their night of debauchery, and despite Trish getting a tattoo of Rose that is essentially rendered meaningless by the night’s failed romantic encounter, Trish has no regrets and essentially makes no progress. As a character, she is unbelievably morose, sullen, and complacent. If it be a good reaction or a bad one, I want her to at least HAVE one! And perhaps I expect too much from my characters, that I want them to be dynamic and reactionary, but the text was in itself too intelligent and witty to expect anything less from the main character. Especially for young adults who, reading young adult literature, generally expect some sort of final conclusion or realization. I was frustrated by the emptiness of Trisha, and as a young adult literature reader, was not impressed. It simply lacked character.
That being said, I still find myself confused by this book because it was good. And can’t I be okay with that, shouldn’t I be okay with that, even if there is no conclusion that is satisfying to me? I think this book made me look at how I enjoy books, and what defines quality in a book for me. For now, I enjoy a book that makes me think, even if it’s about the uncomfortable parts of me that doesn’t like when I don’t get my own way. Thank you Rose and Trish.