I don't often read contemporary young adult novels. It's not because they're not good — some of them are amazing — but I'm a genre reader at heart, so it takes a special hook to pull me into a contemporary YA. Sister Mischief by newcomer Laura Goode had plenty of those hooks: it's about queer girls; it's about hip-hop; it's about an interracial romance. And it is one of my favorite books of 2011.
The book is about Esme Rockett, a 17-year-old girl in Minnesota, and her three friends Marcy, Tessa, and Rowie, who form a hip-hop ((Have I ever mentioned how much I love hip-hop? I LOVE IT. I know there is plenty of misogynistic hip-hop, but there is also plenty of great hip-hop that speaks to the concerns of minorities. Sister Mischief actually could be a great hip-hop 101 for anyone who's interested in learning about it.)) collective called Hip Hop for Homos and Heteros (4H for short, in a brilliant move). It's also about Esme's first romance, with her friend Rowie, who (both incidentally and not incidentally) is South Asian.
Some readers might find Sister Mischief a little challenging to sink into at first, because there are footnotes. I was a bit confused by them initially, but as the book continued, I realized that the footnotes were actually genius. Most of them are text messages that the girls send to each other during the action in the main narrative, so you get this secondary commentary on what's going on right when it's happening. It is just like real life. I'm actually jealous that I didn't come up with this idea myself.
Another thing to know about this book is that it's totally unabashed about its political message. The girls of 4H are clearly liberals, and the book is flavored with many discussions about President Obama, race, and gender, as well as the politics of hip-hop. When I started reading, I was afraid this would date the book, but as I got to know the characters, I realized that this is the world these four girls live in. They care deeply about these issues, and of course they would rap and talk about these issues. They wear their hearts on their sleeves, and they are real about what they believe.
My favorite part of this book? This is a love story about two girls that struck me as, again, very real. Falling in love with your best friend is something that has happened to plenty of queer girls. Like all first loves, it can be heartbreaking, but it can also be life-changing, and Sister Mischief conveys those conflicting experiences with beauty and vivid honesty.
Also, the relationship between Esme and Rowie is just plain sexy. I'm always looking for YA books that portray romantic relationships between girls without shame, by allowing their desire to be written on the page with just as much charge as any heterosexual relationship. Here is one of my favorite passages:
It gets easier once we've done it a few times, once it starts getting dark earlier. I can't even tell you how much it isn't like with Charlie Knutsen. I've never felt big before. When I'm with Rowie, I feel enormous — God, I don't know how to explain it. It's not like feeling fat or anything. I'm just, I don't know, aware of my magnitude in a way I wasn't before Rowie happened, or aware of hers. I bend over to kiss her and she feels so small beneath me, fine-boned, pebble-smooth, a feline thing, a fuse. I lack the ability to deny her anything; the way I feel when we're in the same room is like she's electricity and I'm water. (page 108)
People are always asking me for recommendations of YA novels about queer girls. Honestly, there aren't that many. I'm trying to read as many of them as I can, not only because I write these kinds of books, but because I am a queer woman, and reading these stories speaks to me in a way I want to speak to others. Sister Mischief did all that: it is a story I have lived metaphorically; it is a story I can see others living.