Sister Mischief

Goode, Laura. (2011). Sister Mischief. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

This young adult novel follows a tight-knit group of friends who live and breathe hip hop and social justice. Esme, Rowie, Tess, and Marcy go to high school in a largely white, upper class, Christian suburb in Minnesota, and they push back against conservatism with sex-positive, feminist, pro-queer lyrics. After starting a school club called 4H (Hip-Hop for Heteros and Homos) they receive a lot of opposition from administration and bullying from classmates, but also build a strong fan base and make new friends.

Shortly after the 4H idea is floated, Esme realizes that not only is she definitely gay, but she is also developing feelings for fellow MC Rowie. Rowie seems to feel the same way, and the two begin a secret relationship (content note: tasteful, non-graphic descriptions of sexual intimacy), but Rowie is uncomfortable and inevitably ends the relationship to date men and remain socially acceptable.

There are a lot of feelings and ideas in Sister Mischief: internalized homophobia, religious faith, family and community support, discovering sex and love, and cultural appropriation. The subject of race and appropriation in hip hop comes up more than once, and I appreciated the different points of view that emerged in conversation. These ideas are thoughtfully discussed rather than handed to the reader in a didactic manner. As well, Rowie’s desi identity and each girl’s religious identity are subjects for organic conversation, not diversity check-boxes.

As a lover of hip hop, I really enjoyed references to hip hop culture, especially lesser-known female MCs that inspire Sister Mischief. I also loved that the group is taking back hip hop’s social justice roots in a really thoughtful way, with plenty of discussion about history and appropriation. Descriptions of their lyrics-writing process, practices, and shows are delightful, and the lyrics are strong. I think if this group really existed, I’d probably like them.

There were some things that I was not such a fan of, though. Much of the “youth culture” feels forced and cheesy: the slang, banter, texting, and social media mentions are clearly an adult’s ideas of what the young people are up to these days. I cringed a lot, and I suspect young adults reading the book might chuckle at such endearments as “homeslice”, but it’s still totally readable and relatable. Texting and social media activity are pretty heavy throughout the book, but are put into footnotes instead of incorporated into the body. I personally found it tiresome to have to glance down every few pages just to see a boring retweet, and then have to locate my place in the text again. But others might like this format very much.

Overall, I enjoyed Sister Mischief and I think it’s worth a read to explore ideas of cultural appropriation, internalized homophobia, and an interracial lesbian relationship in a conservative town. Sister Mischief was a 2012 recommended title on the Amelia Bloomer Project list and was a Top Ten on the 2012 Rainbow List.

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About Charlie McNabb

Archivist, Folklorist, Librarian, Legend Tripper, and Queer Activist
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