Esme Rockett is a Jewish lesbian white-girl living in the suburbs of Minneapolis. She’s obsessed with hip-hop, and she’s formed an all-girl hip-hop group with her best friends Marcy, Tess, and Rowie (who she’s also crushing on hardcore). When their Christian-dominated high school tries to ban hip-hop and the culture associated with it from school grounds, the girls decide to take matters into their own hands and form a gay-straight-hip-hop alliance. This move is met with resistance and struggle, but the girls work hard to stay true to themselves and the music they love.
All common sense should dictate that I would not be predisposed to like this book. Although I’m a casual fan of hip-hop music, I wouldn’t consider myself an expert in the least. The summary (available on Goodreads) is so full of hip-hop vernacular that it’s almost off-putting, and my immediate reaction to the premise of the book was to worry about the cultural appropriation that can take place when a bunch of suburban white girls (and one Indian girl) adopt characteristics of another culture. But. But. I grew up in the suburbs of Minneapolis. Holyhill High School? Could have been MY high school (in fact, I had moments where I was sure that Goode drew inspiration from my alma mater). So I decided to dive into the book and see what would happen.
I’m so glad I did, guys, because I really, really loved this book. I recognize that this book won’t resonate with everyone. It’s the kind of book that I’m going to be a champion of because I think it’s hilarious and honest and well-written, but I also have to recognize that like all novels, not every reader will love it like I love it. That’s okay, though, because I love this book enough to make up for those who don’t.
Let it be said: Goode is a really, really good writer. She manages the capture the distinct voices of each of the four girls that make up Esme’s crew, creating characters that are funny, warm, and flawed. These are girls who have chemistry together, who banter and tease each other and love one another deeply. A welcome break from novels that feature protagonists who have no friends or maybe one friend, this novel allows female friendships to flourish. Reading the scenes where the four girls are together, goofing around, were some of the best.
Goode also tackles the subject of hip-hop and cultural appropriation with grace and aplomb. Not only is it clear that Goode has done her homework about hip-hop music in general, but she creates characters who have a genuine love for the music. Even though I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that some of the hip-hop speak made me wince a little, I was able to accept it because it didn’t completely take over the story and because the other elements regarding hip-hop were done so well. The empowerment that the girls felt through writing their own rhymes was poignant. When they connected hip-hop to other types of poetry, I felt ridiculously happy.
There’s a lot to like in the story, even if hip-hop’s not your thing. Goode’s novel is about coming into your own and pursuing individuality. Esme’s relationship with her father was remarkable and yet felt very natural. Her relationship with Rowie felt so real and was, at times, completely heartbreaking. It’s one of the most realistic portrayals of first love that I’ve ever seen, and I not only completely bought their feelings for one another but could actually see the chemistry between them on the page.
The only issue I took with the book was the portrayal of Esme’s arch-nemesis. The girl was like liquid evil, with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Her extreme Christian views would have been completely intolerable had it not been for Tess, whose more inquisitive, accepting Christian views were supposed to provide a juxtaposition for Mary Ashley’s narrow-minded, discriminating worldview. However, the character still felt too much like a stereotype and plot point; the one flaw in Goode’s really compelling debut novel.
Highly, highly recommended, you guys. This is a book I’m going to be giving out as gifts this year.
Sister Mischief hits bookshelves on July 12, 2011. GO GET A COPY.
Sister Mischief by Laura Goode. Candlewick Press: 2011. Electronic galley accepted for review.