by Suzanne Sutherland
When it’s just you and your mom, and your mom is the formerly-famous Micky Wayne, currently a solo singer but once lead of the band Dusty Moon, it’s not surprising that your lives are outrageously intertwined, even entangled, in a very public world. Micky Wayne has a intense personality, both showering sixteen-year-old Victoria with love and embarrassment while putting it all into her music career.
That’s just who she is: transparent. Her heart’s not so much on her sleeve as it is set out on a plate that she’s passing around the crowd for everyone to take a bite of. (pg. 10)But Victoria, or the famous Vic of her mother’s songs, is coming to an age when she is torn between not wanting or needing her mother to always be there but still wanting her mother’s attention. And with her mother learning at the onset of summer that she’d be going on tour to Japan, then returning to do the big annual end-of-summer concert on Toronto Island, before going to Europe for several months in the fall, Victoria feels shafted and disgruntled, and is almost cruel to her mother, telling her “Maybe if you were a real mother” (pg. 98) after Victoria is doored while cycling and ends up in a cast.
As Victoria navigates her evolving relationship with her mother, she is also extending herself into new and changing relationships with her peers. Though her friendship with BFF Lucy is solid, the two girls are going beyond their gaming obsession of Lore of Ages, LoA, and delving into an gaming group for women called She Shoots that supports girls in creating games. But their collaboration becomes precarious when Victoria decides to ask a boy, Shaun, from last year’s drama class to hang out. Lucy thinks he’s an idiot, but Victoria asks him out anyway. After a disastrous first date at a nude beach on the Island and a lengthy period of avoidance due to embarrassment, Victoria becomes more and more involved with the young man, though she lies to him about her mother when she learns he’s a big Dusty Moon fan and doesn’t know Micky Wayne is her mother. Sadly, this new romance puts a strain on her relationship with Lucy, who too feels neglected.
Change is inevitable especially when you’re a young adult and yearning for independence ("I mean I love her, but I can't share her life forever"; pg. 259) and new experiences while still wanting to hold onto that which is familiar and seemingly safe. Suzanne Sutherland, whose earlier book Something Wiki (Dundurn, 2015) is also a coming-of-age story with overtones of digital experiences, delves deeper in Under the Dusty Moon with older protagonists, extreme mother-daughter relationships, and a more intense boy-girl romance. But at its heart it’s still a story of a girl growing up, though Victoria's evolution is not an easy one–Is growing up ever easy?–and happens in fits and starts. Just like the game that she and Lucy are creating, growing up is like walking into a big house of unopened rooms that need to be explored. Some doors are scary to open, others welcoming. Some open into expansive rooms, and others are just portals to other doors. And, like their game, the choices one makes decide where you end up. But, if you’re choosing to read Under the Dusty Moon, you’ve made a great choice and will enjoy the experience of accompanying Victoria on her newest game of life. Beta, anyone?