Cherry Bomb by Jenny Valentish
Cherry Bomb by Jenny Valentish is a rockin’ debut read that takes you on tour, from Parra to LA and everywhere in between, with ‘The Dolls’.
Cousins Nina and Rose have had similar but different childhoods. Rose lived in the big house with her two parents and attended a private school. Nina comes from what could be considered a dysfunctional single parent family and attended a state public school. Together they are a ying to the other’s yang. They dream of getting out of suburban Sydney and making their way in the world via the music stage.
After a short-lived and failed stint in a three-piece high school band, Nina and Rose find their way to the big league as a dynamic punk-pop duo The Dolls (think The Veronicas but not quite so made for TV). The Dolls are helped along the way by their big in the 80′ s aunt Alannah Dall (who in my head is an Australian Wendy James from Tranvision Vamp, primarily because I wanted to be her and when I was reading this book I was defiantly more Nina than Rose), and legendary (and slightly controversial) music producer John Villiers.
The tour de Dolls that is Cherry Bomb takes us recording in Kings Cross, to performing at a country muster, to touring the States and everywhere in between. You’ll love with Nina, be mortified in public with Rose, reclaim your glory days with Alannah, be proud and jealous with Nina’s mum Helen, and you’ll be rejected and then embraced by the media.
With chapter introductions from Alannah Dall’s memoir, Pour Me Another, and a smattering of song lyrics, to-do lists and reviews, I imagine the reading experience and structure of this book to be parallel (somewhat) with what it’s like to live the life of a music artist in the spotlight.
While Cherry Bomb is a début novel, Valentish isn’t a newcomer to writing – she’s had a varied career both in Australia and internationally and has been in rock’n’roll bands, written for music publications like NME and Triple J’s magazine, Jmag, edited crime fiction and has even written a spot of porn. This combination comes together in Cherry Bomb and creates a fictional biography that reads like a cross between a teenage girl’s private diary and a tell-all magazine feature article.
Nina has grit and when you start reading you probably won’t like her, but as the story progresses little bits of her hardened vainer chip away and you discover the bits that went into making her the woman in the spotlight she is. Rose also develops more substance.
Like all good music bios, Cherry Bomb has the sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, but it adds to that with deeper issues of child abuse, depression, and friend and family relationships in general, which is offset by some of the lighter moments thanks to the current obsession with social media.
I’ll be honest, it took me longer to read than it probably should have, I struggled through the ‘early’ years of the Dolls, but got through the second half of the book in one sitting so I think you’d get the most out of this book if you’re the same age as Nina and Rose (early 20s) – it allows you to fully appreciate all the pop-culture references. But, if you’re into Australian music or you want a read with a strong and flawed (like all of us) lead character, then give Cherry Bomb a go.
While you’re reading it don’t forget to put on the Spotify playlist that Valentish has put together (which I’ve put here to make it easier for you).