Canadianfamous: A Review of ‘Under the Dusty Moon’ by Suzanne Sutherland

25413848As a music lover and bibliophile, books about music should be my favourite thing, but it isn’t always the case. Too many times, I’ve been drawn into the premise of a book which promises me the feeling of vicariously living my rock star dreams through literature, and it never quite happens.  Under the Dusty Moon (Dundurn, February 2016) gave me a perspective I hadn’t encountered in book form before: that of the rock star offspring, often taking second place to the musical stylings of their parent.

The Dusty Moon of the title is the band led by Micky Wayne, with the story told from the perspective of her daughter, Vic.  Moderately successful in the past, Micky now plays as a solo artist whenever she’s asked, while working in a bar and occasionally doing some parenting. The book largely takes place while Micky is on tour in Japan, with Vic left with her grandma and a broken arm, a burgeoning romantic relationship and a fracturing bond with her best friend.

Micky Wayne is my mom.  She isn’t famous, but she used to be. “Canadianfamous,” I heard someone call her once.  I maybe I read it. I can’t remember.  People write about her a lot. Or they used to, anyway.

The most interesting part of Under the Dusty Moon, for me, was the relationship between Micky and Vic; having had only each other for a long time (a fact addressed early on in the novel), they are very close, but not always friendly. Vic’s feelings towards Micky often approach resentment and disappointment, while Micky seems content to play the “friend” role rather than being a mother. Sometimes reading YA fiction makes me feel old, and Under the Dusty Moon had this effect; as a parent myself – one who is a massive loser and reluctant to even go out to eat without my daughter – I found Micky’s attitude quite unsympathetic, which helped me to empathise more with Vic.  I really feel like a 32 year old when I question the parenting skills of fictional characters.

The background story of the band and what happened to the members, as well as Micky’s attempts to sustain a career in music, are both interesting; in the wake of so many ‘nostalgia tours’ in recent years, the musical events of the novel are convincing and help a music lover to see the reality behind touring.  Perhaps a bit weirdly, I also really enjoyed the many references to Toronto in the novel; sadly, I have never been, but I feel like Under the Dusty Moon gave me a palpable sense of knowing the place, almost as if I was wandering the streets with Vic. I feel like I’ve read hundreds of stories set in New York or Los Angeles or London but Toronto hasn’t featured so heavily in my reading and this book made me want to go.

I’m not some lost girl searching for the father she never knew. I’m not. I’m searching for a boyfriend, maybe, or sex on the beach. Or maybe just to find something I’m actually good at for once instead of hanging out in Mom’s or Lucy’s shadow while they do what they love.

Under the Dusty Moon gives, I imagine, a pretty realistic idea of what it’s like to have a famous parent (neither of my parents is exactly a rock star, although I have witnessed my dad singing karaoke more than once). Vic’s first person narrative is conversational and consequently easy to read, without being throwaway. In a YA-verse populated with so many dystopian traumas and tragic deaths, it’s refreshing to read something in which the characters are relatable and normal and experience everyday things. I don’t think Under the Dusty Moon is likely to make anybody cry or feel emotionally traumatised, which is a selling point when so much of YA fiction requires psychological intervention after reading. Vic’s perspective is engaging and easy to relate to, making Under the Dusty Moon an engaging read.

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