FICTION: Sister Mischief (2011)

“The world’s first interracial gay hip-hop love story for teens,” written by an Ivy League grad who was in my sister’s high school class, is recommended for Edina alums, minorities, misfits, and anyone who appreciates an honest non-sugarcoated ending. On the most basic level, it’s tons of fun to pick out all the details about Edina High School, Minnesota, that are only barely or not at all disguised in this satire, which makes EHS more Christian-conservative than it really is but otherwise hits the nail on the head regarding the “cake-makeuped gaggle” and “IQ vacuum” who make up the Popular Crowd, the “hysteria over hockey,” the “shiny cars” and the “alienated smartgirls.”

Protagonist Esme, a Jewish girl raised motherless on the poorer side of town, writes and performs hip-hop with her three best friends: Marcy, a hard-edged tomboy drummer; Tess, a delicate liberal Christian; and Rowie, the straight-A’s daughter of two Indian doctors. The four come to lead an organized rebellion against the school administration, which has outlawed hip-hop due to its connections with drugs and violence. This plot is fluffy fantasy, but the other and more profound storyline has Esme falling in love with Rowie and getting hurt when Rowie’s conservative upbringing and personal hangups prevent her from publicly reciprocating. Sixteen-year-old Esme is reasonably comfortable with being gay — her dad’s reaction to her coming out was “Cool with me, kiddo. Eat a sandwich” — but Rowie doesn’t have that luxury, and as a fellow Asian-American I completely understand and am all the more moved by Esme’s plight.

Laura Goode writes a smart, snappy portrait of these independent-thinking high-schoolers who discuss white guilt and Victorian poetry and who text things to each other like “U look like shit. Do u ever get any sleep anymore? Story??” with the response “Dbag, this is just what I look like.” Marcy’s “aborted attempt at a comeback,” when meeting an attractive Somali guy after their hip-hop show, is hilarious and true-to-life in its nonsensical awkwardness. However, it is the serious passages in this novel that really sing: I’ve rarely read such a gorgeous narrative of a first kiss, and I cried when Esme’s dad counsels her “You’ll only be able to be this uninhibited once.”

Sister Mischief is the kind of writing that can save lives, in an era of the Anoka-Hennepin school district’s “neutrality” and a rash of visible gay teen suicides. Not only is it a worthy debut outside of any political context, but the novel does much good by sharing the uphill battle that GLBT teenagers face. Homophobes’ hearts might be softened by the compassion that Esme’s story compels, while lonely struggling gay kids might take heart when they see a kid like them on the bookstore shelves — and see that Esme pulls through her personal tragedy, deeper, braver and still plenty able to love and find happiness.

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