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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Fat Kid Rules the World by K. L. Going

“I’m a sweating fat kid standing on the edge of the subway platform staring at the tracks…It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m standing just over the yellow line trying to decide whether people would laugh if I jumped.”

Troy is almost three hundred pounds, a sweaty, self-conscious ball of angst and nerves, in a uniform of bland tan pants. He’s standing on the metro platform, working up the nerve to kill himself, when Curt intervenes.  Curt MacCrae, a filthy, emaciated, sometimes-student at Troy’s school, a homeless genius and guitar legend-that Curt.  Curt convinces Troy not to jump, and then decides Troy owes him lunch.

Thus begins the unlikeliest of friendships.  Manic Curt  gulps every pill he can find, steals everything that isn’t tied down, and is constantly starving and filthy.  Troy is huge and unhappy, wallowing in his own self-hatred, convinced that everyone in the world is staring at him in disgust.  He feels like he can’t live up to his perfect younger brother’s image, or his rigid military father’s expectations.  However, the two of them form a relationship based on music.

When Curt appoints Troy as the drummer in his band, Troy has five weeks to learn to play the drums like a madman, and he’s his own worst enemy.  He just has trouble letting go of himself long enough to let the music creep out: he’s too focused on needing to be invisible for the music to work.  But Curt’s belief in his abilities bolsters him, and transforms him from sweaty Troy to punk rocker Big T.

I was astonished when I flipped to the end of this book and discovered that it was written by a woman, especially because Troy’s voice came off as so authentically fat teenaged-boyish.  She does an incredible job getting inside Troy’s head, and crafting these three-dimensional characters.  That was my favorite part of this story:  Curt is so frustratingly unreliable, and Troy so self-sabotaging.  In short, they are so real, acting and behaving just like real people do.

I was a little worried when I got into this novel that it would be one of those sappy Cinderella stories, where the fat kid loses weight, the homeless kids gets a bath and a job, and everyone lives happily ever after because now they’ve been transformed into Nice and Normal People.  I hate when that happens, because the underlying message is: you can only be happy if you’re not yourself.  That is the beauty of Fat Kid Rules the World. Troy doesn’t lose weight.  He doesn’t stop sweating.  And by the end of the book, he’s still in his uniform of bland tan pants.  The only change comes from his own self-acceptance.  Thank you, thank you, thank you, P. L. Going, for not giving in to the conformity principle.  Thanks for not letting your readers down!

Speaking of the author, this is what she has to say about how she was able to portray Troy so realistically: “I am the Queen of Self Consciousness and Troy’s fat is really just the physical embodiment of this. I’m also more than capable of coming up with really off the wall reasons why people will hate me and everything will suck. So, it’s not so hard to be the sweating Fat Kid…”

This is an amazing book.  It totally inspired me to put on some Iggy Pop and stop believing that everyone is always staring at me.

Happy Reading!

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

Going, K. L. Fat Kid Rules the World. Speak Books: New York, 2003. 185 pp.