I Ain’t Yo Bitch by Jabulile Bongiwe Ngwenya

iaintyobitchPublisher/Date:  Paper Bag Publishing, Aug. 2009
Genre(s): Coming of Age, Young Adult
Pages:  163

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

If I AIN’T YO BITCH was defined by a current song, it would sound like Drake’s “Crew Love.”

Mainly because Tebogo’s world revolves around being the lone female in her crew, honing her music craft, partying, and appeasing her groupies. Nothing else matters.

Set in Johannesburg, South Africa, Tebogo’s almost bipolar tale is deep, rooted in the loss of her mother and surviving a family betrayal. Living with her father, Tebogo relied on her grandmother’s gentle counsel, friendship and discipline. It is she, unlike her father, who accepted her granddaughter’s sexuality with love and understanding.

“Will it get easier? Sometimes I think there is something wrong with me,” said Tebogo, tears welling.

“Where have you ever heard of such a ridiculous idea?’ laughed her grandmother, opening her arms to embrace Tebogo. She held the child, gently rubbing her back with soft, gnarled hands. “You’re different. You like different things. I don’t understand how that’s wrong? God created a variety of flowers in his garden. Not everyone will like roses, not everyone will smell the daffodils, but someone will fall in love with a daisy or lily.”

Now after her grandmother’s recent passing, Tebogo is a 19-year-old local hip-hop star trying to make it to the big leagues with her boys: Welile, Siphiwe, and cousin Andile. In the group, SWAT, her image is wrapped up in being “Tube,” which means being one the guys.

She thinks she’s one of them, proud that she can do anything the boys can…except she’s a girl…a fact she doesn’t fully realize until it’s too late.

Though the male posturing is a bit much, I Ain’t Yo Bitch is true to its portrayal of a girl’s coming of age in the hip-hop era. The success she and her boys aspire to have is based on American rap culture, which causes you think about the types of messages, often negative, we express to the world in our music.

What’s also interesting is that being surrounded by men, Tebogo can’t discern that what will gain them the success they crave is her femininity, not in a Nicki Minaj way, but adding her experiences will help them stand out and combat the misogyny pervading hip hop. Because truthfully, the real Tebogo is the sweetness she demonstrates with her grandmother. That’s what I wished there was more of.

But then, it wouldn’t be the same story now, would it?

Reviewed June 2012


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