Cherry Bomb by Jenny Valentish

In brief: Nina is one half of super punk rock (not pop) duo The Dolls. This is their story of the rise to fame and the trouble that starts once you get there.

The good: Loads of music references that even I understood, plus it’s a wild ride.

The not-so-good: Nina’s a bit prickly, plus I’m scared that she would think I’m a wimp!

Why I chose it: Thank you to Allen & Unwin and The Reading Room.

Year: 2014

Pages: 373 (ARC)

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Setting: Parramatta, Australia before taking on the world

My rating: 8.5 out of 10

Psst…here’s a secret. I am not really all that good when it comes to music. I can’t really sing, I can’t really play any instrument and I have trouble separating Rhianna from Lana Del Rey on the radio. Apparently I walked straight past Florence (of Florence and the Machine fame) in the street. But I do love a good rock ‘n’ roll story. These musicians not only have talent, they know how to rock the system to its limits. Cherry Bomb is one of those stories, about fictional group, The Dolls, made up of two cousins (Nina and Rose). Before you start thinking, ‘oh yeah, like The Veronicas’, I’ll stop you and say that Nina Dall is much more of a bad-ass. She’s a hard drinking woman with a thing for older men and a passion for stage diving. Behind the bravado lie some deep inner secrets that even Nina is reluctant to think about…

The Dolls started in the western suburbs of Sydney (Parramatta to be exact) when Nina and Rose were teenagers. Their aunt is famous 80s pop star Alannah Dall, who both the girls want to emulate. Alannah lives a much more quiet existence on the Gold Coast these days, but the girls still think of her as their idol. Alannah sets them up to record a demo with producer John Villiers (never say just John) and their track to stardom is set. It’s a fairly bumpy one though, with their manager Ian Essence (not his real name, but because he always starts off sentences with ‘In essence…’) booking country musters and high school appearances for the pair, who are much more punk and rock than pop. Eventually they tour America (cutting short when Nina gets a little too outrageous) and become the big names that they had planned. But can they maintain the momentum as things become more fractured between the pair and Nina’s problems spiral out of control?

I really enjoyed the insight into the music industry that Cherry Bomb gave me (I’m never going to get there myself and now, I’m not sure that I could handle the drinking, drugs and sex). I loved how Nina broke down important moments by explaining in detail what she and Rose were wearing (always very cool outfits with a punk edge for Nina, girly tone for Rose). I didn’t find Nina an incredibly likeable character – perhaps because she would think I’m too soft, more like Rose but I understood why she acted as she did and I enjoyed her antics. Nina was always unpredictable, which made reading about her addictive – I really didn’t know what was going to happen next, which way she would jump. Rose faded a little into the background for me, as the more sedate and sensible Doll. She did do things a bit out there at times (much to Nina’s disgust at having the limelight taken away from her) but she was more the stabilising half of the group. I think that The Dolls represent is that time in your late teens where anything is possible and nobody is going to tell you what to do. Nina embodies that freedom, that f-you to the world, although she takes things a lot further than your average teenager! Kudos to Jenny Valentish for creating a protagonist who knows she’s not everyone’s favourite and dares you to continue anyway. I love Nina’s sass.

Each chapter of Cherry Bomb starts with a paragraph from Alannah Dall’s memoir, Pour Me Another. This was Nina and Rose’s bible growing up and the excerpts are very humorous – I’m thinking Debbie Harry, Kim Wilde and Transvision Vamp. There’s also a playlist for each chapter of the book – shamefully, I didn’t know all the songs but the ones I did fit perfectly. Nina also makes lists of moments/top 10s – the list of support bands that shouldn’t be put together with big name acts was perfect, except for just one. I think Robbie Williams and Machine Gun Fellatio go together beautifully – can’t you see Robbie rocking along to ‘Summer’ or MGF doing a great rendition of ‘How Peculiar’?

Cherry Bomb is a great debut novel that’s not afraid to tackle the big issues and look at less than conventional ways of dealing with pain and suffering. I’d be really interested to see what Valentish comes up with next.


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