Author: Laura Goode
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Synopsis (taken from GoodReads): A gay suburban hip-hopper freaks out her Christian high school - and falls in love - in this righteously funny and totally tender YA debut, for real.
Listen up: You’re about to get rocked by the fiercest, baddest all-girl hip-hop crew in the Twin Cities - or at least in the wealthy, white, Bible-thumping suburb of Holyhill, Minnesota. Our heroine, Esme Rockett (aka MC Ferocious) is a Jewish lesbian lyricist. In her crew, Esme’s got her BFFs Marcy (aka DJ SheStorm, the butchest straight girl in town) and Tess (aka The ConTessa, the pretty, popular powerhouse of a vocalist). But Esme’s feelings for her co-MC, Rowie (MC Rohini), a beautiful, brilliant, beguiling desi chick, are bound to get complicated. And before they know it, the queer hip-hop revolution Esme and her girls have exploded in Holyhill is on the line. Exciting new talent Laura Goode lays down a snappy, provocative, and heartfelt novel about discovering the rhythm of your own truth.
Cover impressions: I’m really not a hip-hop fan and, despite the prospect of a quirky, funny and diverse LGBT love story, I was hesitant to read “Sister Mischief” because of worries over cultural appropriation and such. However, by the end of this book, I was ready to apologise to it for ever doubting how good it would be. This review may not be the most objective thing I’ve ever written. Sometimes a book comes along that you completely fall in love with, even though you know it’s not perfect and you know not everyone will have the same wild feelings towards it as you do but you’re ready to cheerlead for it until everyone stands up and takes notice. I liked this book so much that it’s turned me into a cheesy mess!
First and foremost, it’s a book about identity and individuality. Esme’s a white, Jewish by birth but non-practicing teenager who loves to rap and is coming to terms with her sexuality while living in a Christian conservative town. She and her friends could so easily have slipped into caricature mode, especially with their frequent use of hip-hop speak and slang (which may annoy the hell out of many readers), but Goode fills them with such humour and depth that they’re never anything less than complete characters. It’s so refreshing to read a YA where the group of friends are so close and loving, not just in theory but in practice. There’s been a long period of YAs ruled by loners and outsiders who have a small group of friends they rarely interact with, much less act like real friends with. Throughout their tough times, fights, conversations and laughs, you never for one moment doubt Esme’s love for her friends and vice versa. At first glance they mat fit broad moulds – the butch one, the confident one, the meek Christian girl, the geeky and insecure Indian girl – but they evolve into so much more, busting stereotypes and questioning the identities they’ve been slapped with. They’re young, they do stupid things, they drink and take drugs and have sex, but they’re also smart enough to take responsibility for their actions and grasp the bigger picture, often in a very funny and touching way. They also kick arse!
The hip-hop element was handled with real skill and humour. The girls question their right as Caucasians and Asians (this book also gets huge props for his multi-cultural society which and highlighting the issues of being different in a predominantly SWASP environment – the extra S is for straight, as added by Esme) to appropriate hip-hop and also ask a lot of interesting questions about culture, identity and stereotypes. If I must be a little objective, at points this does feel a little forced, as if Goode is using the girls as mouthpieces, but for the large part, it’s handled well and explored multiple issues without turning it into a preach-fest. Esme frequently notes down lyrics throughout the book, often left as footnotes, along with texts and tweets, using her music as a way to express herself and sort out who she really is.
The relationship between Esme and Rowie was sweet, often beautiful and never simple. It felt real, as did the different ways both girls reacted to their burgeoning sexualities. Esme, the daughter of an extremely liberal single dad to whom she is very close (her dad was one of my favourite supporting characters, but I also loved that all four girls had parental interactions) takes it in her stride for the most part while Rowie is much more reserved, wanting to hide her secret from the world for fear of disappointing her more traditional father, who she believes is already disappointed in her because of her Americanised attitude. Their relationship effects not only them but their friends and family, which we see unfold over the few months the book takes place. It’s a time of change – the book is set around the time Barack Obama was elected President – and this profound moment in time reflects the girls’ struggles. It’s realistic, it’s relatable and, like most teen loves, it’s awkwardly beautiful.
I was, however, disappointed by the portrayal of the main female antagonist. I understand that Goode wanted to set up a contrast to Tess to show the differing attitudes of Christians in teen America – Tess is more relaxed and willing to ask more questions while remaining dedicated to her faith while the antagonist is stricter – but she just came across as a nasty cardboard cut-out. I really wanted to see the community’s wider reaction to the growing LGBT movement in the school, not just from this one token bitchy girl. While we do get an insight into the school’s political workings, it feels insubstantial and disappointing, especially since the rest of the book is so inquisitive and full of colours and ideas, not just black and white. That’s what stops this book from being close to perfect in my eyes.
I loved “Sister Mischief.” I know a lot of people will hate the hip-hop element and there are times where it came close to grating on me, but there was so much love in this book and it was brimming with ideas and questions, I couldn’t help but love it. It’s a book about so many things – love, growing up, discovery, identity, feminism, religion, culture, friendship, school, lies, heartbreak, music, change – and I found it to be nothing less than a delight. It’s not for everyone, it’s not perfect, but I’d still highly recommend it to all. There aren’t many books out there so jam packed with as much creativity, diversity and heart as “Sister Mischief.”
"Sister Mischief" will be released in USA on July 12th. I received my e-ARC from NetGalley.com.