If ever there was a candidate for the current “It Gets Better” campaign supporting gay and lesbian teenagers, Esme Rockett is it. The heroine of Sister Mischief is a smart, gorgeous and funny high school junior, and she can throw down some mad rhymes with the other members of her all-girl hip-hop group. But it’s hard to hear that she’ll be loved and appreciated someday, when the girl she loves right now wants to keep their relationship a secret, and when neither the students nor the school administrators at her prestigious public school in suburban Minneapolis understand the righteous importance of a gay-straight alliance—not to mention the cultural relevance of hip-hop.

Esme’s burgeoning political passions burn just as hot as her secret love affair with fellow band member Rowie. But when the “thinking Christian” in their group discovers the relationship before Rowie is ready to go public, Esme must own up to the feelings of abandonment she’s been hiding ever since her mom left when Esme was in preschool. Is Esme doomed to be left by women forever? Or can she use the example of her countless hip-hop heroes to turn her pain and anger into emotionally searing art?

Esme and her friends sometimes talk like a veritable encyclopedia of rap music, but they (and author Laura Goode) clearly know their stuff—and although their conversations can veer toward the polemic, their verbal acuity also results in snappy banter that can be pretty darn funny. In the end, Esme’s story demonstrates to her friends, to the reader and, most importantly, to herself that despite her tough-girl persona, she can love—and live—passionately, openly and well.

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