Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sister Mischief by Laura Goode

Title: Sister Mischief
Author: Laura Goode
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release Date: July 12, 2011
Pages: 264 pages (hardback)
How I Got the Book: From the publisher via NetGalley.

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.

Rating:

Esme and her BFFs Marcy, Tess, and Rowie make up Sister Mischief, the fiercest undiscovered all-girl hip-hop group in the area. When not working on rhymes and practicing, they hang out and bug the crap out of each other the way only best friends can. When the principal of their school in wealthy SWASP suburb Holyhill makes a rule against hip-hop at school because it "incites violence," the girls start 4H, a combination gay-straight alliance and club for discussing hip-hop and rap. Well, they try to. Principal Nordling won't give them approval unless they prove the club is worth something. Meanwhile, Esme is experiencing first love with another girl--and maybe first heartbreak.

Hip-hop and rap are not my favorite genres. Actually, they're two of my lest favorite genres, saved from the bottom spot only because I dislike heavy metal more (that is entirely too much noise for me to handle). The slang and the dated name-dropping was confusing at times, but I expected to love this book when I finally read it. Did I? Yes, I did. So much so that when these girls performed, I rapped the lyrics to myself.

Esme, Marcy, Tess, and Rowie are all trying to find and define themselves just like any teenager girl would, and their search for identity, along with the trials of growing up, is what this book is about. I can remember having the same struggles and even now, I'm still struggling with finding who I am. Readers will identify well with these girls even if the reader has nothing in common with them.

The cast is strikingly diverse in ethnicity and sexual orientation. The conflict of how difficult it can be to be different in a town that thinks different (such as not being straight or white) gets the spotlight for a while too. If that issue had been left out of a book where the main character is a lesbian, her love interest is an Indian who feels out-of-place and doesn't want to disappoint her traditional family any further, and other supporting characters are equally diverse, the rating would have been much lower. I was nearly shaking in anger at some points because of how Esme is treated for being different, but it's real and ignoring that even in fiction would be wrong. Hate crimes and bullying happen.

And these girls actually act like best friends too! It's not just a claim that they're best friends and then they treat each other badly or hardly talk and spend time together; no, Esme and co. are rarely ever apart, they stand by each other, and they have their fights and tough times like most friends do. Their banter reminds me of the kind I have with my two BFFS (except my friends and I spend way more time quoting A Very Potter Musical/Sequel at each other and freaking out over books and cats). their friendly camaraderie and the multiple conflicts combined and made this a difficult book to stop reading.

And may I say I admire their manipulative genius? Not everyone can take a prank completely unrelated to them and turn it into a way to get the word out about 4H, point out how the administration lets pranks like that happen and won't let an educational club have approval, and give a little "take that!" to Principal Nordling?

I thought my favorite would be Tess at first, who forced herself to endure Mary Ashley's company so 4H would be given credibility (considering Mary Ashley, this is a true feat), but by the time I turned the last page, my favorite character turned out to be Rowie. She sometimes grated on me, but so was so complex and presented so sympathetically that I couldn't just say "I loved her" or "I hated her." Some of the things she did and the way she treated her relationship with Esme grated on my nerves, but I understood why she acted the way she did.

What kept Sister Mischief from near-perfection was Mary Ashley Baumgarten, aka MashBaum. She was a cardboard cut-out cartoon Christian if you've ever seen one. Maybe this is just my useless hope for humanity, but I think even the people that originated the negative stereotype would have better insults than "feminist lesbian vegetarian baby killers" to throw at someone. She is not portrayed as the average Christian or average Christian, thank goodness; she's mostly there to drum up conflict and be a contrast to Tess, a very open-minded Christian. Such flat characterization when in a novel with complex characters is a minus.

Sister Mischief was a truly amazing book and I can't wait to get my hands on my own copy so I can hug it and keep it on my shelf and reread it until it falls apart. Then I'll buy another copy and start all over again.

4 stars for being an awesome LGBT book and giving me complex characters the likes of which are hard to find nowadays, but also throwing in a cartoon Christian with baffling insults. Check this out when it comes out July 12th.


What am I reading next?: Rhymes With Cupid by Anna Humphrey