Friday 6 October 2017

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Review: Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

Moxie by Jennifer MathieuMoxie by Jennifer Mathieu (Bought) - Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with her high school teachers who think the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes, hallway harassment and gross comments from guys during class. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.

Viv's mum was a tough-as-nails, punk rock Riot Grrrl in the '90s, and now Viv takes a page from her mother's past and creates Moxie, a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She's just blowing off steam, but other girls respond and spread the Moxie message. As Viv forges friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, she realises that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.


A page-turning read with a feminist message, for anyone who has ever had to deal with #everydaysexism.
From Goodreads.

Trigger Warning: This book contains sexual assault and talks about rape.

I've been waiting to read Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu since I first heard about it months back. An ordinary teen girl bringing feminism to her school through zines? Just my kind of story! And I absolutely loved it!

This is a book I wish I had to read as a teenager. It's so full of passion and anger, but also action, and I definitely think it would have sparked my becoming a feminist a lot sooner. With Moxie along with Holly Bourne's The Spinster Club Trilogy, I would have been impassioned and ready to start my own club or something similar at school. Even now, as an adult, Moxie had me raring to do something and fix things, wishing I was still at school, so I could try and make a difference there. I can of course do things now as an adult, but Moxie had me thinking about school in particular, and I really just want to shove it into every teen girl's hands, and have them start their own school revolutions.

What I loved most about this book was that Viv was just an ordinary girl; a girl who was insecure, who had hang ups, who didn't like drawing attention to herself and preferred to go under the radar. In that sense, she reminded me a lot of myself when I was teen. And so it was wonderful to see this ordinary girl who isn't self-assured and full of confidence decide to try and change things at her school with her anonymous zine Moxie. I made me think that I could have done this, or any teenage girl could do it. You don't have to be super confident to realise things are screwed up and to decide to do something to change them.

That's another thing I loved about Moxie; it wasn't about Viv, it was about sexism. It was about taking a stand and trying to change the crap girls had to put up with at school; the popular boys saying, "Make me a sandwich," whenever a girl gave an opinion in class. The school's dress code spot checks where they would shame girls for the tightness of their clothing or how much skin was on show because it was distracting to the boys, and being made to cover up with ugly, over-sized gym sweatshirts or tracksuit bottoms. How the girls' soccer team was doing really well, but never got any real recognition for it, no funding, no new uniforms for decades. And so on. Moxie was about pointing out the how crap everything was to those who might not fully realise it, about girls not feeling so alone in feeling it was unfair, and about girls finding the courage to do something about it, supported by each other. With Moxie being anonymous - Viv coming into school early and leaving copies in the girls bathrooms before school started - Viv, as an girl with little confidence, could actually do something without necessarily drawing attention to herself. And at the same time, making it about every girl at the school. Moxie didn't belong to Viv, it belonged to all girls, and the girls would take up the banner of Moxie and start their own things, like a bake sale to raise money for the soccer team. I just loved that!

There was one moment towards the end where I felt very emotional, proud of all these young women and what they were fighting for, that they were willing to take risks to speak out against terrible things. And I was so, so mad at the teachers at their school. There's a part of me that wants to believe that this is just fiction, that teachers and head teachers/principles, people in authority, wouldn't treat girls as terribly as those in this book did, but at the same time, it worries me that it could be happening. Which makes me so, so glad this book exists. Because if teens read it and recognise the injustices within their school, recognise them being upheld by their teachers, they might just have the courage to do something about it, to tell someone, to get help elsewhere.

There was another element to this book that I really loved. There is a romance element to the story; Viv starts seeing new guy Seth. Although Seth isn't like the other guys at school, is a pretty decent, nice guy, and, when the talk about Moxie makes it's way around the school, is for the girls being treated better, he just doesn't always get it. He is the voice of "Not all men", and through him, I think guys can maybe start to understand that saying that not all guys are crap not only doesn't change the fact that there are guys who are crap even if they're not, it also derails the conversation, makes it less about the experience of girls and women and how they feel, and makes it about them, and how they would never do that. There is one conversation he has with Viv, where he doubts what someone says and they really fall out, and it just enraged me. It's something that's been said about a guy, and rather than thinking about the girl and her experience, he thinks about the guy. I don't want to spoil the story, so I won't say any more, but it just enraged me, because this is a conversation I have had many times before. In these situations, guys always seem to think about the guy and what this will mean for them, not about the girl. I think it was important to have a decent guy who isn't a complete dick, but a decent guy who does get it wrong, a decent guy who has to learn and understand that, when girls and women are talking about how they don't like the way they're being treated, he needs to shut up and listen - and then help. Although I didn't feel I really got to know Seth, as the romance isn't the focal point of the story, I think his character development is such an important part of the story. Because guys need to understand how crap things are for girls, and because of how Seth gets things wrong and learns, I think this book is also pretty good for guys to read, too.

There is just one negative for me. I felt that the various issues that were dealt with in the novel were kind of "blocky". By this I mean that the sexist issues had their time throughout the year, rather than things happening alongside each other. First there was the "Make me a sandwich" comments that first inspired Viv to make Moxie. Weeks passed, and then the school started up with their random dress code spot checks, which led to another issue of the zine. Then there was something else after another few weeks. It didn't feel realistic to me that these things were only happening at certain times of the school year. The "Make me a sandwich" comments happened year round, and so did a few other things that started later, but it just felt odd to me that everything wasn't happening all at the same time from the beginning. I think it would have felt more realistic if they were happening - or at least some of the things were happening - all the time, and it was as Viv worked on Moxie over time that she came to realise just how screwed up these things were, as she was thinking and learning about sexism. As it stands, it just felt a little too separate to me. But this is only a small quibble, and I loved the book as a whole.

Moxie is an incredible novel, one that will inspire and impassion anyone who reads it to become a Moxie girl and fight back.

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Published: 21st September 2017
Publisher: Hodder Children's Books
Jennifer Mathieu's Website

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