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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Gone, Gone, Gone by Hannah Moskowitz

“He whispers, ‘Want to hear a secret?’

I nod.

‘You’re safe with me anywhere, at all times.’

It turns out, our ‘anywhere’ is the basement, and our ‘at all times’ is the entire day.  We don’t go to school.  We play checkers and make out.  My parents are upstairs watching the news.  And even though it feels like the entire world is freaking out, and even though the entire world is really just our area, and no one else anywhere gives a shit, and they definitely don’t give a shit that there are two boys making out in a basement, that’s what we are, we keep doing it, and there is something sort of beautiful about the fact that we keep doing that even now that we know it’s not what the world is about.

If I could take all the machine guns in the world and bend them into hearts, I totally totally would, even if I got grazed by bullets in the process, which knowing me I probably would, because I’m a little bit of a klutz, but Lio thinks I’m cute.”

A year after 9/11, a sniper is targeting inhabitants of the D.C. area.  Parents are keeping children home from school, and people hurry to their cars after leaving the grocery store or bank.  Everyone is uneasy, hunkered down and hoping for the threat to pass and leave loved one unharmed.  In the midst of it all, Craig and Lio find each other.  Craig’s exuberant nature and generosity help Lio forget about his dead twin, the specter of cancer that still haunts him, and his estranged mother.  Reflective, calm Lio patiently searches the entire city for Craig’s lost menagerie, a motley collection of pets that escaped during a break-in earlier in the year.  However, both boys are frightened and have suffered great losses in their past; being vulnerable is a true challenge for the pair, especially during such frightening times.

This is a story about untidy, realistic love in an unpredictable world.  In that aspect, I feel like it is an incarnation of Every Story Ever Told, and I love Hannah Moskowitz for it.  The text is full of sad-sweet details that instantly disarm the reader, such as Lio’s patchwork-dyed, multicolored hair.  Instead of maintaining such an off-putting hairstyle out of rebellion, Lio does it because he does not want to look like his twin, who died of cancer.  Craig’s big brother still lives at home, quietly working the night shift at a suicide hotline and looking after the family.  Details like that give the story depth, without feeling manipulative or precious.  As Lio and Craig negotiate their various issues against a backdrop of a world that seems to have lost all sense, a quiet optimism emerges in the text.  Yes, the book seems to say, the world is awful sometimes, and our families and loved ones aren’t always what we hope. But somehow it is going to be ok.

I loved this book for several important reasons, but the primary one is the author’s treatment of ethnicity and queerness.  This is a post-race, post-queer book, in which there is no need for coming out, and the characters’ ethnicities are mentioned only briefly and in passing.  This is not a story about an African-American character falling in love with a Caucasian character, nor a story about a gay boy who falls in love with another gay boy.  Instead, it’s just about love.  Furthermore, the book acknowledges something that adults often find uncomfortable: the  depth and intensity of feelings young people experience.  The story affords young readers dignity, validating their relationships and emotions, and I like that very much.

Oh, please read this! It’s such a beautiful and tender story. I really think you’ll like it!

Happy reading!

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

Moskowitz, Hannah. Gone, Gone, Gone. Simon Pulse: New York, 2012. 251 pp. Ages 15 and up.

You might also want to try Brooklyn, Burning, With or Without You or The Perks of Being a WallflowerThey have queer content and also the same “feel” to them!

Getting It by Alex Sanchez

“‘On three conditions,’ Sal continued. ‘First…’ He held up his index finger.  ‘You tell your creep friends here not to give me shit-ever again.’

Carlos felt his throat going dry.  Didn’t Sal realize this was supposed to be a secret?

‘Second…’Sal added another finger.  ‘It’ll cost you six bucks an hour plus expenses.  Believe me, I’m letting you off cheap.  Start by bringing twenty bucks tomorrow.  And most important’-Sal flicked out a third finger-’you help start our school’s Gay-Straight Alliance.’

With the word ‘gay’ all eyes turned to Carlos. He cringed, wanting to crawl beneath the lunch table.

‘Now for your first lesson.’ Sal dabbed a finger across the corner of his own lips. ‘When you’re eating, wipe your mouth.’

Carlos is ashamed that he’s fifteen and still a virgin.  In fact, he’s never even kissed a girl.  To make matters worse, it seems like all his friends are hooking up, and he can’t even get super-hot Roxy to look at him.  What is it?  Is it his broken-out skin, or maybe his over-sized nose or undersized muscles?  While channel-surfing when he can’t sleep, he flips to a show he’s never seen before: Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, a show where gay men give a sloppy straight man a makeover.  And that’s when his master plan is born:  all he needs to do is convince Sal, a classmate that everyone says is gay, to give him a makeover so he can win Roxy’s heart.  However, Sal drives a hard bargain:  in exchange for the help, Carlos has to agree to help start the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance.  In order to do so, Carlos has to face his own prejudices and stand up for his new friend, which isn’t easy when you’re just a teenager trying to fit in.

This is my third book for the Colorado Teen Lit conference at the end of March, and it’s fantastic!  Honestly, this is the book that got me excited enough to overcome my terror about having to stand up in front of my future colleagues and speak for an hour; it’s just so exciting and has such a good message that it’s an honor to present on it.  I chose it because it, like the other conference books, isn’t focused on coming-out.  In this story, Sal is out and supported by his family and close friends, and enjoys a healthy relationship with his boyfriend.  In fact, Sal and his sweetheart are nearly the only example of a functional and loving relationship in the story.  To make matters even more awesome, this book features minority characters, like Into the Beautiful North.  I think both of them point to trends in publishing: more books about queer characters that aren’t only about coming-out, and more books featuring characters belonging to minority groups.  It feels like the literature is opening its arms to teens of all kinds, and it’s pretty beautiful.

You will love this book because it’s very real: Carlos is angry, confused, struggles with his self-esteem and identity.  His biggest worry is finding a girlfriend.  Sometimes he’s an amazing friend, and at other times, he lets his friends down.  In short, he’s written as though he were an actual teenage guy.  Adding to the book’s appeal are the other realistic characters: Carlos’ pa, who sometimes comes off as hyper-masculine and insensitive, and Carlos’ friends, who are all mainly concerned with image and hooking up with girls.  Also, in Sanchez’s world, there are gay characters, straight characters, and those who are in-between or even just not sure yet.  It seems to me like all of the different relationships in the book explore different aspects of love and identity.  Plus, it’s a fast, funny story that doesn’t get mired in cliches. I think you’re going to love it!

Alex Sanchez is a Lambda Literary award winner who has written several other well-received books, such as So Hard to Say, Rainbow Road and Boyfriends with Girlfriends.  Getting It won the Meyer’s Outstanding Book Award, 2nd place in the Latino Book awards, and actually caused a public uproar when it was removed from the New York Public Library’s summer reading list.  Patrons staged protests and succeeded in getting the book put back on the reading list.  Awesome, right?  I’m pretty sure Carlos would approve.

Happy Reading!

Sanchez, Alex. Getting It. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006. 210 pp.  Ages 15-18.

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

If you liked this book, you might want to try Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea, or Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John