Reviewing: Roving Pack by Sassafras Lowrey

Roving Pack, by Sassafras Lowrey

‘Roving Pack’  is set in an underground world of homeless queer teens.  The stories follow the daily life of Click, a straight-edge transgender kid searching for community, identity, and connection amidst chaos. As the stories unfold, we meet a pack of newly sober gender rebels creating art, families and drama in dilapidated punk houses across Portland, Oregon.  Roving Pack offers fast-paced in-your-face accounts of leather, sex, hormones, house parties, and protests. But, when gender fluidity takes an unexpected turn, the pack is sent reeling

After I’d read the last line of Roving Pack, I turned the page expectantly.  I wanted more.  I double-checked to make sure I hadn’t flipped two pages instead of one.  I read the last paragraph again, then another time.  I sat with it.  It sat with me.

I feel a lot of empathy for Click’s situation.  Being genderqueer is similar to being trans*, some of us even embrace trans as part of our identity.  We often find kinship and camaraderie among trans folks.  We can relate to feelings of gender dysphoria and the pain of not being seen for who we really are.  However, for those of us who are gender non-binary, what we don’t have is a clear path to a well-recognized gender destination.  There isn’t a sense of moving from point A to point B, because male and female are not necessarily our starting or endpoint.  In following Click’s story, the day to day reality of being non-binary in a binary world is laid out in very stark terms.  It isn’t just a matter of not being understood, sometimes people don’t believe you, they think you’re fooling yourself, not finding yourself.  Roving Pack doesn’t shy away from some really ugly moments where the trans community is revealed as not as accepting of gender fluidity as one would hope.  I’ve experienced this first hand, with trans guys assuming that genderqueer is just a temporary stop between female and male, and that eventually I’d ‘figure it out’ and get serious about transitioning.  Listening in as Click works through what genderqueer means to hir, what it means to be non-binary, begins to see how much bigger gender could be and questions whether T is right for hir — it all feels so familiar.  These are the same questions I’ve asked myself, with similar results.

We have great stories and blogs featuring the trans* narrative but we don’t have the same body of work for genderqueers, or for alternative, non-binary trans* stories.  Reading Roving Pack made me hungry for more. I want to reach out and gather all those untold stories up in my arms and find a comfy chair.  I’m also very aware that I also have a story to tell, and that no one else will tell it if I don’t.  I feel not only inspired but called, called to make sure more genderqueer voices are heard, including mine.

This story hits me on a lot of levels.  As someone who grew up queer with parents who disapproved, I can relate to some of what the characters were going through.  The frustration and anger at not being heard, not being seen for who you are.  I can remember friends who had even less support than I, who couch surfed most of the time, and were often living in pretty sketchy situations.  I remember worrying about them a lot.  I also know that many of them abused drugs and alcohol and engaged in other risky behaviors and some attempted suicide, more than once.

Now, I’m an adult, an adult who survived my youth and went on to have a pretty great life, but I never forgot how hard it was to be queer and gender non-conforming in high school.  Roving Pack had me thinking back to my past, but also to the present.  I work with GLBTQ youth now and they’re facing the same challenges and dangers my friends and I faced back then, and that Click and the pack faced in Portland.  From 1982 to 2002 to 2012, not enough has changed.  Queer and gender non-conforming kids still get kicked out, struggle to live and stay healthy on the streets, try to make sense of a life within a society that is still stacked against them.

Roving Pack is a great story, but not a pretty one.  The reality of life for Click and the pack and the greater queer punk trans community was not pretty.  At times I needed to put the book down, to take a break, to breathe a little.  I wanted desperately to jump into the story, to pull Click aside and say, ‘Hold off, man, not this one… you deserve better” but you know that wouldn’t have worked.  Not for any of us.  We’ve all made choices that didn’t work out, hooked up with people and situations we regretted later, and we weren’t going to take advice from any old-fart know-it-alls.  If we’re lucky, we survive our choices, learn from those experiences, and move on to make better ones.

Roving Pack is good and I predict you’ll get hooked hard in the first couple of pages.  As a reader, you’re given a front row seat into a life rich with possibilities and rife with painful challenges.  Page by page, you’re pulled along at a fast pace — good luck keeping track of who’s with who, and who is the exe, and which Daddy is with which boy at any given moment.  Roving Pack is good because it doesn’t candy-coat, it doesn’t hold back to protect delicate sensibilities, it doesn’t gloss things over or cover up the hard times with the rosy glow of memory.  This is no sweet coming of age story, this is the real shit.  Sassafras Lowrey takes us right back to that raw, impulsive, embarrassing, triumphant, ever-changing time of our lives when we were busy figuring it all out — and pretty sure we’d do a better job of it than any of the old fart boring adults we saw around us.  This is a story about those moments when the idealism of youth clashes with the ugly truth of life and our real selves are born.

You should buy this.  I know not all of you are genderqueer or trans or former gender rebel punks, but you should buy this book and read it.  We were all young once, and I have no doubt at all you’ll find a bit of yourself in this story.  I’m also recommending this book because it offers you a rare glimpse inside the mind and heart of someone who is truly outside the box in terms of gender.

Warning, a bit of a spoiler ahead.

The ending is hard, it made me sad and angry.  I didn’t want Click left like that.  I wanted to jump into the story and reassure hir that there were other boys like hir in the world, brothers who would understand and not freak out.  And as much as I’m fantasizing about writing fan fic to continue the story, it ended exactly the way it needed to.  The ending puts readers squarely where Click was, wondering what was going to happen next and how to continue.  We get to experience having the world come down around us and being too shell-shocked to do much more than sit there and feel it all.  Happy endings are over rated, anyway, we need more stories with realistic endings.  Happy endings may sell some novels, but they would have done a disservice to this one, in my opinion.  Roving Pack is hard-edged, painful, impulsive and hard to put in a neat tidy package.  If it weren’t it wouldn’t do the job of telling Click’s story and, luckily for us, Lowrey made Click’s story the priority.

To order your copy, please go to Sassafras Lowrey’s blog, PomoFreakShow, and order directly… that’s the best way to make sure more of the proceeds go directly to the author.  Roving Pack earns the full 5 boots of Butchtastic appreciation and a special ‘thank you’ to Sassafras Lowrey for giving us an amazing story, and giving me a lot of inspiration.


For more of my thoughts on Roving Pack, see this link.  For another thoughtful review of this novel, please see Cory Alexander’s review on King Praxis.

This content is published under the Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported license.

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