I’m going to warn you right now: I enjoyed John M. Cusick’s Cherry Money Baby so much that this column may very well morph into a list of Alice “Cherry” Kerrigan’s Finest Moments. I’ll try to rein myself in, but it’s not going to be easy.
She’s 17 years old and a senior in high school. She lives in a tiny trailer with her father and her perpetually stoned younger brother in a small factory town in Massachusetts. She works at the Burrito Barn and has been dating her next-door neighbor, a boy she’s known since preschool, for years.
You totally know what’s coming next, right?
WRONG. No, she DOESN’T want to escape her small town. No, her family and friends DON’T strike her as backward and boring and gauche*. No, her relationship with Lucas HASN’T become humdrum and boring.
When she saves a movie star from a Death By Burrito, yes, her life DOES change. She IS exposed to new people, new places, new things, a different way of life. She tries new foods and has new experiences—some wholesome, some less so—and, as you’d expect, her perspective and her understanding of the world are both altered. So, yes. She does change. But although she flirts with a different world, although she is fascinated by it, she is never so starry-eyed that she’s taken in by any baloney—the Hollywood types are self-absorbed and have their own motivations, but none of them are moustache-twirlers—and, at her core, she remains the same impulsive, quick-witted, surprisingly sweet, cheerfully vulgar girl she’s always been*:
During freshman-year orientation, Olyvya had attempted to distinguish herself as Seriously Superior by joking that Cherry dressed like Gwen Stefani circa 1994 (a good burn, Cherry had to admit). The three chicklets who would become her entourage giggled. Cherry turned in her assembly chair and punched Olyvya in the jaw, knocking her flat on her back and liberating her right front incisor. In a sense this moment divided their class. From that point on, some regarded Cherry Kerrigan as a freak show, a maniac, a dangerous lunatic. A near majority thought it was the most awesome thing they’d ever seen. Either way, from then on, Cherry Kerrigan was legend.**
Cherry Money Baby is very much about fear: the fear of being unloved and unlovable, but also the fear of leaving, and especially the fear of being left. It’s very much about class, about snobbery, about assumptions and stereotypes, about fame and celebrity and social media. It’s about friendship—what constitutes friendship, what people expect and want from it, and how the definition of the word itself depends on who’s using it—it’s about responsibility and family, and as the title suggests, it is about pregnancy.
I have no doubt that it will take some flack for its subject matter, for Cherry’s life choices and about her attitude, for the profanity and sexual content***, and I have no doubt that someone, somewhere will claim that it Promotes Unhealthy Choices to the Youth of Today. The thing is this, though: In addition to being about all of those other things I’ve already talked about, Cherry Money Baby celebrates the fact that not everyone wants exactly the same sort of life, and that one person’s life-altering disaster could well be another person’s life-altering joy.
*Cherry would never say “gauche.” She takes German, though the only words she really ever remembers are “danke” and “bitte.”
**This footnote is here purely to point out how mature and restrained I am being in limiting myself to one excerpt.
***Which is not remotely gratuitous or even particularly detailed. But, as we all know, sometimes it doesn’t take much to get people riled up.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy might be making stuff for her Etsy shop while re-watching Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, Black Books or Twin Peaks. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.