Friday, 21 December 2018

Review of Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu


Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu
Published 19 September 2017
by Roaring Book Press


Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with her small-town Texas high school that thinks the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes and hallway harassment. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.
Viv’s mom was a punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ’90s, so now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond. Pretty soon Viv is forging friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, and she realizes that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.


Better World Books (Hardcover)



My first thought when I read the synopsis (the blurb) for Moxie, was “Wait, so are zines a thing again? Am I that old?” The answer is, zines never stopped being a thing, I just stopped making them, and yes, I am that old. As a 1989 baby, I grew up in the 90s, I didn’t really experience the Riot Grrrl movement since I was a member of the 10 & under crowd. I mean, we had zines as kids. Everybody got into zines in the 90s. I don’t think there was a kid in the 90s who couldn’t make a zine. I couldn’t make a friendship bracelet or braid hair until I was out of high school, but I could make a cootie catcher fortune teller and I could make a zine before I was 6. Because those were important skills to have for a lifetime, right? But for anybody who doesn't really know what a zine is (because I’ve seen quite a few people who don’t actually know) or wants to know how to make one, here's a quick little zine tutorial.
I enjoyed reading Moxie. I read it in one sitting and I own three copies of it. A physical copy, a Kindle copy, and an ebook copy. It has its flaws but I’ve yet to encounter a truly perfect book, not even a favourite book is perfect. I truly tried to keep this review short and sweet and still say everything that I wanted to say, but, three weeks later, I've resigned myself to the fact that that is not going to happen, y'all.
Moxie follows a high school junior named Vivian Carter around for a school year as she goes from being a self-described “good girl” who’s just trying to survive two more years of East Rockport High School’s brand of misogyny to the unmasked mysterious founder of the Moxie Girl rebellion of East Rockport High School. You will laugh, you will cry, you will probably look up Bikini Kill’s Rebel Girl before you finish this book. (Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.) Now, make sure you’re comfortable before reading further.
Viv was raised in East Rockport, Texas by her mother, Lisa, a former riot grrrl turned nurse after the death of Viv’s father. She grew up listening to her mom’s old music and making their cat, Joan Jett, dance around to bands like Bikini Kill and Heavens to Betsy. Viv and her mom live right next door to her maternal grandparents who repeatedly praise Viv for being such a ‘dutiful’ good girl – unlike her ‘rebellious’ mother who ‘was always looking for a fight’. Viv’s mom’s riot grrrl days are behind her, packed away in a shoebox in her closet labelled “My Misspent Youth”, and she’s just plain Nurse Lisa now, no signs of the blue-haired hardcore feminist to be seen – except hiding somewhere deep inside of her 16-year-old daughter as we’ll all soon discover.

“I believe with my wholeheartmindbody that girls constitute a revolutionary soul force that can, and will, change the world for real.”

- a Bikini Kill zine


I was outraged when I read the opening scene where the new girl, Lucy, is answering a question in Viv’s English class and the jock du jour, Mitchell Wilson, interrupts her to tell her “make me a sandwich” and the teacher admonishes the entire class for acting childish and assigns them grammar exercises for the rest of the period as punishment. Among other things that I’ll leave for you to read about, there’s a March Madness bracket of East Rockport High’s most fuckable girl that everybody in the town seems to know about and fathers even brag about their daughters making it into the top tiers. Which is creepy all on its own, right? The examples of blatant sexism portrayed in Moxie resonated with me as I read Moxie because I actually went to high school with a group of popular guys who wore t-shirts that read “F.B.I. – Female Body Inspector” and “Once you put my meat in your mouth you’re going to swallow” and nobody really called them on it. I don’t know why others didn’t, but I was already getting a lot of flak for being a lot younger than my peers, I didn’t want to be the ‘not-fun one who couldn’t take a joke’. So, I get where Viv was coming from, watching and feeling like she wanted to say something but not wanting to poke the bear. I’m ashamed to admit it, but yeah, I get why it took Viv so long to act. I’d like to think if I’d had a catalytic friend like Lucy, I’d have spoken up back then.
One of the things I enjoyed most about Moxie was how the idea of feminism wasn't an already known concept to every character in the book. Okay, obviously I didn't like it, I'd love if everyone grew up understanding the dynamics of feminism but not everybody has that privilege. Lucy was Viv's Obi-Wan of sorts, guiding her through 'Feminism 102'. Sara thought the Moxie zine was totally what East Rockport High School needed, but had a bit of an 'I'll do it if you do it' vibe at the beginning. Claudia was under the common misconception that feminism was anti-men and didn't want anything to do with the term. Kiera and Amaya wanted to know if Moxie Girls' feminism was inclusive or not. And Emma didn't see a point to the whole thing and spoke against the Moxie thing. But by the end of the book, East Rockport High School had some proud feminists.
My second favourite part of Moxie is the zines. Y'all. Whether you buy the kindle book, the ebook, or the physical book, you get the illustrated zines in your book as Viv publishes them (Yes, I did buy both the ebook and the kindle book to be sure). My personal favourite is the third zine, but I do love them all. The student body's reaction to each zine is different, you can actually see the Moxie Girls movement building up right before your eyes with the students' responses. There's a lot of buzz about the first zine, of course, but not too many girls actually go along with it because "what's the point?" But as the level of misogynistic nonsense rises, the more "Moxie Girls fight back!" becomes more than a phrase on a 'silly' zine sitting on the windowsill of the girls' lavatory.

And my favourite part of this marvelous book? The relationships between the young women of East Rockport High School. Aside from general clique behaviour during the first half of the book which is nowhere near as bad as it was in my high school (huge shout-out to my middle and high Schools where the popular white girls like to set up 'weird' girls to be raped - but there's no bullying there, right, Crisp County?). The young ladies in the book stopped minding the clique delineations and banded together throughout the book and became a powerful force of good. When Lucy and Viv are asked at a Moxie bake sale if the Moxie Girls thing was 'just for white girls', they quickly made it clear that Moxie is for every girl. They kept fighting, together, and that's beautiful.
Now, let's talk diversity since it is twentygayteen and all (that's right, I said it and I'll say it again. TWENTYGAYTEEN!). Moxie has a moderately diverse cast for that it doesn't really involve many people per se. It's a typical small Texas town high school centred around Vivian and her small circle of friends that begins to expand a smidgen as the story progresses. I would have loved to have seen more POC and LGBTQ representation, several of the named characters have Latinx names and Viv's childhood friend on the girls' soccer team, Kiera is black as is her friend, Amaya, I think? I've wracked my mind and my book and I don't even remember a single specially abled (I just heard that term in place of 'disabled' recently and I love it!) person. And as someone with so many 'special abilities', ouch! I've been a huge activist since I was 6 years old when my first grade teacher wanted to put my friend with Rett Syndrome in the corner and have us all ignore her and I went out of my way to include her. As for the LGBTQ community, there’s two ‘possibly’ not-straight guys in the drama department at school (you can cringe there, I did) and a closeted couple that Viv stumbles across towards the end of the book. That’s all the rainbow power there and as a card-carrying member of the Rainbow Society of Supreme Gaydom, I needed more gay in a book centring around the Riot Grrrl movement. The Riot Grrrl movement co-existed alongside Queercore in the 1990s and Heavens to Betsy and Excuse 17 were two bands that were active in both the Riot Grrrl scene and in Queercore. While I was researching the Riot Grrrl movement, I came across a bunch of zines from ‘back in the day’ (I feel so old saying that), and they preached a lot about inclusivity, how Riot Grrrl wasn’t just for white girls or straight girls, and I  But we're reading a book that's bringing up Riot Grrrls which tried to be inclusive in an era that's media was extremely selective of what they covered. And I really wish that Moxie had followed that premise a little better than reiterating 'Moxie is for every girl', I love the sentiment, but I'd have loved to have seen it represented in the story with more diverse characters. Although, definite points for quoting Audre Lorde. If you don't know, Audre Lorde was a poet and a black intersectional lesbian civil rights activist who died in 1992. Many people quote her, but a lot them just know that she's a poet. Hopefully, Moxie works to change that.

"Your silence will not protect you." 
-Audre Lorde

Something that I wasn't too fond of was the Seth factor. Viv did what I see a lot of in relationships. Fight and make-up, over and over again, over the same issue basically. Seth is a moderate feminist, I guess you could say. He tries to be full-throttle, but he does a lot of the 'well, not all of us are like that'. We know it's not all of y'all guys being the problem but it's still the majority, dude... That's why we have to keep shouting. And when someone has a #MeToo moment (slight Trigger Warning for mention of forced groping, BTW), he fails the Boyfriend Test in my book. There's redemption and all, but it just pissed me off that this professed feminist didn't even hesitate on outcry, but pressed the 'how do we know it happened' button. As someone who struggled with her own rape and didn't admit it happened for years because my rapist was someone I hero-worshipped and considered a brother and I never reported it because who would believe me, I cried. I cried hard and ugly and my dogs had to bury me in a dogpile of love and I hate Seth's character for that.
Overall, Moxie made me reflect on current and past events in my life and in the world in general. It also reminded me of why I made the conscious decision to call myself a feminist as a teenager. It had its good points and its not-so-good points, like all books, but I believe it's a great introductory book to feminism for teenage girls. It teaches girls to have autonomy over their own persons and speak up for themselves even when the adults that are supposed to be looking out for them aren't. I know I'll definitely be adding it to the Feminist shelves of my little sister (10) and my niece (2) as they grow old enough to read it. My sister will love it, my stepmom, not so much. Mathieu writes a good book with characters you'll love and characters you'll hate, and moments where you have your 'this is why I'm a feminist' spark. I know it did with me. I wholeheartedly recommend you buy this book, for yourself, for the teen in your life, for the cover, for the story, for the zines.

I'm giving Moxie 4 stars and I hope you'll give it a read. Now before I go, some quick links of Jennifer Mathieu's from her Moxie girls fight back! site. Want to know how to starts Feminist Club like Moxie at your school? Click here! Be sure to listen to Jennifer Mathieu's Moxie Playlist on Spotify.


I'm an English teacher, writer, wife, and mom who writes books for and about young adults. My novels include THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE, DEVOTED, and AFTERWARD.
My fourth novel, MOXIE, will be out in September 2017. It was recently optioned by Amy Poehler's production company for film! It has a special Tumblr I adore that you can check out at www.moxiegirlsfightback.com
All my novels are published by Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan.
My favorite things include chocolate, pepperoni pizza, and this super hilarious 1980s sitcom about four retired women called The Golden Girls. I can basically quote every episode.
I live in Texas with my husband, son, and dog!
When it comes to what I read, I love realistic young adult fiction (duh), creative nonfiction, super scandalous tell-all memoirs and unauthorized biographies, and basically anything that hooks me on the first page.

You can reach Ms Mathieu on her website, her e-mail (jenmathieu@gmail.com) or her public social media.



This has been another review on Once Upon a Time, I Read a Book and as per usual, I'm ending it with a charity I've noticed and a little snippet of life. My 2-year-old niece is pretty obsessed with Manatee the Service Dog and we've started introducing her to the concept of service dogs. She understands Manny has special tricks that help me, but she plays with him and climbs all over him off-duty, so it's important to teach her about how she can't play with him when we're shopping or at Disney or something because it's harder to deal with my health problems out in public. We took her to a no-pets holiday lights show and told her because he's wearing his special vest, he has to focus on helping me and she can't play with him. She was very good about it and even told other kids "Manatee's busy, don't pet." So cute, but so serious about it.
Following that lead, my charity for this post is Canine Companions for Independence, they're pretty amazing if you ask me. A few of my service dog friends have gotten their canine partners through them and they are amazing dogs.
Until next time, darling readers, have a happily ever after, and if you celebrate, happy Christmas!

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