Sunday, 5 October 2008

Book Review: Under The Bridge - The True Story Of The Murder Of Reena Virk, by Rebecca Godfrey (2005)

The 1997 swarming death of 14 year old Reena Virk in the Victoria suburb of View Royal, British Columbia was a shocking event, shining the spotlight on teenage girl-on-girl violence. Virk was first beaten by a group of young teens, most of whom were girls, and then beaten again by two of the group members and forcibly drowned.

The events and characters involved in this incident are the subject of Under The Bridge. The book traces the events before, during and after the murder, and given the large number of people involved, it is a terrific narrative. Rebecca Godfrey does a masterful job of bringing to life a sub-culture of kids from the wrong side of the tracks, all of them from broken homes of single-parent or divorced families, none of them receiving anything like the necessary home environment to steer them in the right direction. In this vacuum the abandoned young teenagers, girls and boys alike, create their own world of drift, petty crime, fake machismo, threats and violence.

Virk herself was trying hard to belong to this group as she rebelled against her home environment. The local youth, including Warren Glowtaski, Kelly Ellard, Josephine Bell, and Dusty Noble, had the most atrocious family backgrounds, with parents who can be used as perfect examples to press the case for competency tests prior to parenthood.

Godfrey's writing style is rich, fluid, and street-wise. She gives the kids a voice, and recreates events and encounters with vivid details. For the most part she avoids any hint of smarminess, and instead slowly paints a stark picture that reveals how society pays for the sins of uneducated adults through the actions of their children.

The one minor complaint about Under The Bridge is that it should have included an Index to help the reader keep track of all the characters who populate the story. Otherwise, this book is a painfully essential experience, both for describing the events surrounding Reena Virk's murder and the culture that created the environment that resulted in her death.

Published in paperback by Harper Perennial. 351 pages.

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