Sister Mischief by Laura Goode

“But you have to use the love you still have for Rowie to create some things yourself.  You fell in love.  That’s brave.  Find the courage it took to do that and use it to write something that makes other people feel something.  It isn’t just about getting everyone’s attention, about shocking them and making them laugh.  It’s about giving people a reason to think about something they’ve never thought about before, something only you can make people consider.  It’s about moving people, honey.  About telling your truth.”

Meet Sister Mischief, a hip-hop group straight from Holyhill, composed of four of the baddest ladies around.  There’s Esme, MC Ferocious, a Jewish lesbian who takes care of the verses; Marcy, DJ SheStorm, the toughest straight girl on the drums; Tess, the gorgeous vocalist and former Lutheran-supergirl…and Rowie.  Rowie, the gal that Esme falls desperately in love with.  Rowie, who shatters Esme’s heart when she decides to date a nice Indian boy instead.

In the midst of the heartbreak, there is an epic struggle with school administration.  The principal has forbidden hip-hop and related clothing, and worse, refuses to allow Sister Mischief to run a queer student organization.  The girls wanted a forum (in the center of all-white, all-straight Minnesota) to discuss issues of race and gender, but meet intense administrative resistance.  When your love leaves you for someone she thinks her parents will approve of, and your school is as homogeneous as it can be, it’s hard to keep your chin up.  With the help of her friends and her super-supportive single father (he’s the one who gave the amazing pep talk I chose as a quote), Esme sets about changing the world to make room for herself and her friends.

This book is full of biting wit, stellar wordplay, and the entire roster of Who’s Who in Hip-Hop History.  Laura Goode plays with sounds and text, peppering the book with song lyrics and word combinations that beg to be read aloud.  The structure is great, too; she intersperses the book with text messages, in the form of footnotes.  While you’re reading, you’ll come to a footnote and then skip to read it at the bottom of the page.  It’s so clever; it feels exactly like you are getting these texts in real life.  You know how you’ll be reading and someone sends you a text, and you stop right away to check?  This is the book version of it, and it’s really interesting and not at all distracting.  Oh, and aside from mentioning (in a natural and not-pushy or pretentious way AT ALL) every incredible hip-hop artist in existence, there are also tons of quotes and references to queer writers and books, which is fantastic.  This book reads like a thousand arrows pointing to other awesome works, so readers will find it rich with new things to read and listen to.

Structure aside, you’ll love Esme’s vulnerable, sassy narrative and the strong bond between the girls.  Furthermore, teens will love that it takes them seriously:  this is a story that completely affirms the intensity of emotion and passion of which young people are capable. My favorite part, though, is the post-race, post-gender tone of the book.  While many people feel that being “post-race” involves never mentioning race or color, I feel differently.  I think that when we ignore race and self-consciously refuse to discuss it at all, it is 1. inauthentic and denies reality and 2. furthers the gap between cultures, as it makes us reluctant to share and learn from each other because we feel it isn’t appropriate to ask.  Race and sexual orientation are central to the text, and Goode handles it like a master; while including a diverse cast of characters, she avoids the trap of the “token lesbian/Jew/Indian/etc”.  Also, huge props to the incredibly positive feminist message!

Hip-hop fans and anyone who’s ever had a broken heart or felt out of place will love the stuffin’ out of this awesome book!

Happy reading!

Author’s website: http://lauragoode.com/

Goode, Laura.  Sister Mischief. Candlewick: Sommerville, MA, 2011. 367 pp. Ages 15 and up.

If you liked this book for the musical and literary references AND the queer content, then Hard Love is probably perfect for you, because it has all of those elements, plus is a super-award-winner!  And, in the other direction, try Beauty Queens by Libba Bray.  It has no hip-hop, and takes place on a remote island, rather than in a high school, but is full of the same wit and sass as Sister Mischief.

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Castle Waiting by Linda Medley

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“I’m Lady Jain Solander, Countess of Carabas. I’ve journeyed many months, hoping to gain sanctuary at the legendary Castle Waiting.”

This is Sleeping Beauty like you’ve never heard it before. The king and queen are just, generous rulers, but have no child.  When the long-awaited baby is welcomed into the world, a vengeful witch places her under the familiar curse.  Thus begins the story of Brambly Hedge.  However, it is what happens after the curse that makes this graphic novel special.

After the princess is awakened, and runs off with the prince, we get another “Once upon a time”.  This section of the story involves a convent of bearded nuns, mischievous imps, a castle that stands as a refuge for all that might require it, a despot ruling over the local mill, and a lot of gumption on the part of the characters.  Oh, yeah-and a library and a whole barnful of puppies. See, after the Sleeping Beauty part, Sonorus (the town) fades away; businesses move out of the region until all that’s left are the mill and the castle, which has become a self-sufficient refuge, rather like a commune.  The story centers around a pregnant woman, running away from a mysterious past.  (Don’t worry, you’ll learn about that bit later).  She flees to the castle, and when she gets there, all of the inhabitants reveal, slowly, their back stories.

Friends, I’ve found it.  A graphic novel fairy-tale retelling with a feminist perspective. The Magical Trinity of ImageBook-Awesomeness-here it is!  Don’t tell my professors, but I read this right in class, with the book crammed under my laptop.  It’s that good!  This is the kind of book I’d like to save, to pass off to my children, if I ever have any.  It retains all of the magical fairy-tale storytelling, but Medley empowers her characters (all of them, not just the ladies), and emphasizes the importance of self-acceptance and bravery, without being didactic.  I love the creativity in the book, too: all too often, it seems like fairy tale retellings stick too closely with what has already been written.  Better still, this is a series! I can’t wait to get my hands on the next one in line.

Happy Reading!

Medley, Linda. Castle Waiting, Vol. I. Lake City Way, Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 2006. 452 pp. (Don’t be scared about that-it’s a graphic novel! I finished it in two days!) Ages 13-18.

Publisher’s website.  (If anyone has a link to Linda Medley’s site, I would be so grateful!)

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

This book is too good: I had to start with more than one quote!

Mom: “It’s more than that, sweetheart.  Every time you use new Lady ‘Stache Off with triple beauty action, you’re contributing to our economy, our way of life.  Don’t you want to be a contributor to our economy?  Don’t you want to make sure we can have bikinis, cable, and porn?  What are you, a communist?”

A Word from your Sponsor: “The Corporation would like to apologize for the preceding pages.  Of course, it’s not all right for girls to behave this way.  Sexuality is not meant to be this way-an honest, consensual expression in which a girl might take an active role when she feels good and ready and not one minute before.  No. Sexual desire is meant to sell soap. And cars. And beer. And religion.”

A plane full of Miss Teen Dream beauty contestants crash lands on a deserted island.  Armed with sequined evening gowns, safety razors, and mascara wands, the young women begin to set up home in the wilderness.  As they are doing so, they uncover conspiracies and corporate abuses of power (Ladybird Hope, head of The Corporation and presidential candidate) is involved in illegal arms trade, and is setting up the plane crash as a ratings boost.  There are pirates, mangy snakes, homemade weaponry, gummy bears, and so much satire that it will blow your mind.

I almost didn’t know how to take this book: there was just so much going on in it!  But not in a bad way; it’s just simply stunning.  In the hands of a lesser author, this could be a disaster, but with Printz award-winner Libba Bray, it’s a minor masterpiece.  She subverts the cutthroat-girl-competition paradigm and writes instead about girls celebrating each other and working together to achieve a common goal (that is, not getting eaten by snakes in the jungle).  The girls discuss identity questions, gender expectations, societal pressures, and consumerist culture, but all in this almost wacky setting, against the backdrop of the island and the looming Corporation.

The book is formatted like a television show, with commercials, Fun Facts pages for each of the young women, alternate endings, and a series of hilarious footnotes.  Bray is both ruthless and clever in her satire: she undermines consumerism by showing us all how ridiculous it can be when taken to its logical extreme.  Careful readers will notice gems such as George Bush’s infamous “misunderestimate”, and several nods to Sarah Palin.  It’s witty, zany, and so multi-layered that I feel like I need to read it again in order to fully appreciate it.  My very favorite parts were where The Corporation would directly address the readers.  Hi-la-ri-ous!

Oh, and did I mention the great characters?  Oh yeah-there’s a lesbian. A transgender girl, a girl who got into the pageant only because she wants to destroy it and everything it represents.  There are girls figuring out their sexual identity.  There are girls dealing with how their minority status excludes them from larger society.  There’s a hearing-impaired girl who is sick of pretending it’s perfectly all right that she’s got a disability, just so she doesn’t make everyone else feel guilty.  The best part is that there are no stock characters in this novel:  everyone is well-developed and acts in a realistic way.  I loved that the two queer girls didn’t fall in love, because you know what? That’s what happens in real life.

This is an intelligent look at capitalism and expectations of women in society, mixed with a lot of madcap action and appealing characters.  I think you’ll like it!

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://libba-bray.livejournal.com/

Bray, Libba. Beauty Queens. Scholastic: New York, 2011. 396 pp. Ages 15-18.

 

 

Girl Goddess # 9 by Francesca Lia Block

“They like to dance together better than dancing with boys because they can be more sexy and free and not worry that the boy is feeling self conscious.”–Pixie and Pony

“The most beautiful people are the ones that don’t look like one race or even one sex.” — Winnie and Cubby

“No other kid at my school lived with two women who slept in the same bed and kissed on the lips all the time.”   –Dragons in Manhattan

” I am bringing lost girls back from underground.” -Orpheus

My beautiful sister brought me this book back from San Francisco, and I am in love with it, an unashamed crush that makes me want to fly kites and sing enthusiastically and leave positive body image decals in fitting rooms.  Yeah, it is that good!  Have I ever steered you wrong, my dear friends?

This is a collection of nine short stories, which I was already inclined to love, because I believe the short story is so often overlooked as a genre, and it is a great way to entice readers who are, perhaps, intimidated by a longer format, and disdainful of the shorter, though often more opaque, poem.  Isn’t that sneaky?  Besides,  this collection is stellar.  The stories all center around girls and young women, all told with a lush, almost magical, voice.

La’s poet mother is dead, Tuck has two mothers, Winnie is in love with her boyfriend Cubby, who loves other men, and Pixie and Pony are the best friends to ever grace the pages of a book.  These are their stories: full of sparkly hope, growth, and language that makes you think of paintings and constellations and water glinting off the ocean.  You can finish the book in a few hours, but you will probably want to hold on to it for days.  If you know a girl, or you are a girl, (I am pretty sure that is everyone. Just sayin’!) you should read this book.  Here’s why: this collection is special because it returns the magic to femininity and celebrates that power inherent in young women, the strength that society so often likes to overlook .  What I loved most was the contrast of the setting (often a gritty city landscape) and the tapestried beauty of the characters’ inner dialogues and relationships with others.  The stories are straightforward in plot, and feel like little snapshots in a photo essay entitled “Being a Person”.

Francesca Lia Block is the author of many amazing books, including Weetzie Bat and The Rose and the Beast.  She won the Margaret Edwards lifetime achievement award, which is actually code for Super Amazing Goddess Writer Who Makes the World Better Just By Existing.  Everything she has ever written is now on the top of my to-read list, and I am mailing this beautiful book to a friend who is going to love it, as long as she promises to mail it to someone else after she is finished.

On a side note, do you remember when I reviewed The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender, and someone described it as “magical realism”?  I loved Bender’s style, and Francesca Lia Block gives me the same feeling.  I think you will like it!

On an even more unrelated side note, I got my student visa and am leaving for McGill in Montreal for library school this week!  Oh sweet goodness, I am going to be a librarian!

Happy Reading (and I love you)!

Author’s website:  http://www.francescaliablock.com/

Block, Francesca Lia.  Girl Goddess #9. New York: HarperCollins, 1996. 181 pp.  Ages 13 and up.