Mary: Moxie is a 2017 book by Jennifer Mathieu that follows high schooler Vivian Carter as she tries to start a feminist riot grrrl style movement at her school in rural Texas. Vivian's fury is driven in part by her disgust with the sexist boys in her class and in part by her mother's secret "misspent youth" in Portland, which helps her establish her riot grrrl aesthetic in part. Vivian makes new friends, rekindles old relationships, and finds a boyfriend over the course of the novel, all while learning about feminism and standing up for her rights!
Emily you picked this book—what drew you to it? I was really excited to read it, too.
Emily: Well not to brag but I've written a lot about the riot grrrrrrrrl movement from a scholarly standpoint because I'm really interested in different iterations of feminism, especially more recent ones.
Kelli: Not to brag.
Emily: So I was interested in the idea of bringing zine culture back to a contemporary youth culture. And the artwork looked fun.
We also have guest Kelli. Why are you here, Kelli?
Mary: Yeah! specifically, I should note that Vivian makes zines to distribute to her school and she gets VERY mad whenever people call them flyers or newsletters.
Kelli: I'm here because I love the riot grrrl movement! I am very into DIY feminism and although I don't read a lot of YA, I thought this would be interesting. Also, I liked the idea of presenting feminism to a younger audience, because I really could have used a lesson on it when I was in high school. I was one of those people who was like "I'm not a feminist, but."
Mary: But now you're thinking differently, which is what matters!
Kelli: Yes! But only once I took what was basically a Feminism 101 class my freshman year of college. Which is basically what this book is, in some ways. Feminism 101.
Mary: Definitely. That's what kind of got me about it, though. I don't feel like I need a feminism 101, so while I think this book is great for people who need that talk, I, as an adult, felt like...meh.
Emily: Yeah, but this book isn’t for you.
Mary: I mean, I read it, so it is for me in that sense.
Kelli: Well I think there's something to be said for writing a book that can be enjoyed by a variety of people—people who need the lesson part, and people who want to enjoy it.
Mary: YA has a huge crossover appeal, and I think the author/publisher has to be aware of that stuff.
Kelli: I felt like this book had a lot of great lessons, but it lacked some other things I look for in fiction. Like well-rounded characters. Lol.
Emily: I think the YA genre is tricky because some YA books skew a little younger than others. This to me seemed like a book for younger teens. Compared to some of the other stuff we've read.
Mary: That's true. It's a weird genre, for sure.
Emily: But yeah, characters were very much used to represent different perspectives about feminism and feminist issues.
Mary: Yes, definitely. There was the classic "I'm no a feminist because I like dudes" girl, the super feminist girl who everyone thinks is weird...etc.
Kelli: Right. And the main character, who's just uncertain about who she wants to represent herself as, but seems to know how she feels about the issues. I thought it was kind of unfortunate that the character—the best friend, Claudia, who's like "I'm not a feminist because I like boys"—had to experience sexual assault before she could really come around to the idea of feminism.
Mary: Oh man, yes. That was sad.
Kelli: It was really heartbreaking, and that stuff definitely happens, but in some ways it might have been more interesting or complicated if that wasn't what made her "learn."
Emily: Also there are lot of gray areas of men being shitty that aren't just assault.
Kelli: Yeah. And actually, that is one thing I appreciated about this book—the treatment of the love interest character, Seth, and that one of the only real fights that our main character has with him has to do with his level of empathy and understanding when it comes to her passion about feminism.
Emily: And I think that it dealt with a VERY real issue a lot of dudes have with feminism.
Emily: And it gets to one of the main issues of being, like, a feminist who likes dudes. Often times they don't know how to empathize because they have never HAD to.
Mary: Right—especially, I would think, TEEN BOYS.
Kelli: yes. And I love that she really stood her ground when it came to that. She was like, you know what? You really don't get it. And he keeps saying "I get it" and she's like, nah, bro. You don't. I appreciate the realism of it, because when it came down to it, he was a good guy, and someone she wanted to be with, but even the best guys can't fully understand sometimes. (Because they're idiots.)
Emily: Especially the teen ones.
Mary: The thing is too, I think he comes to terms with the fact that he's never going to get it, not fully, because he can't. He's not a girl.
Emily: So much YA romance is idealized wish fulfillment and I liked that he wasn't perfect. Just always saying the perfect dreamy YA teen boy BS. Looking at you, John Green. Again.
Mary: LOOKING AT YOU.
Emily: Back at it again, John Green.
Kelli: OMG y’all I still like John Green.
Emily: Ugh, Kelli why.
Kelli: Because I actually read him when I was a teenager. LOL
Emily: I feel like he was a teenager when I was a teenager because I am a grandma.
Mary: I got to the point in Moxie where each time there was a new issue of the zine I got really excited. That is just a part I really enjoyed. They have a cute 1950s vibe.
Emily: I loved those parts too.
Kelli: And I love that it was called “Moxie.” That’s a legitimately awesome name for a zine.
Emily: And I loved the idea of them.
Kelli: I also loved that they made stickers to put on all of the boy’s lockers.
Emily: That was so smart. She had a lot of really smart ideas.
Kelli: A lot of the ideas she had for the zine and for the acts of rebellion were really powerful, yeah.
Mary: I kind of want to make a zine now.
Kelli: And I wish I would have had something like that when I was in high school.
Mary: It’s not too late, Kelli! You have a workplace!
Emily: Yeah, I was gonna say if I had read this in high school, I would have wanted to make a zine.
Kelli: But also, it kind of made me think of like - when I was in high school, I started reading BUST.
Kelli: And I think that was part of what got me thinking about Feminism and what made me want to take a class in college. I made zines in college but that’s because #artschool.
Mary: Can I say something I really didn’t like?
Emily: No. LOL
Mary: In an attempt to make it more accessible to teens of today, every time Vivian references Bikini Kill (except for maybe once), she says, "the singer in Bikini Kill." PAY RESPECT TO KATHLEEN HANNA, VIVI.
Kelli: LOL I know. It was definitely hard not to be like "Oh my god I knOW" every time she would go into detail explaining the stuff I already knew about, but I again, I see the educational value in it.
Emily: Yeah, but also—Here is a problem I have with a lot of YA lit—The kids are SO INTO the stuff that their parents were into and have no interest in contemporary pop culture, which is part of what signifies them being cool and different, but really all it tells me is that an adult wrote this. Like I get it, because RIOT GRRRLS, but generally, this is a YA trope that bugs me A LOT.
Mary: OH yeah, for sure. It annoys me the other way around though, when the teen protagonists use a lot of hip slang.
Kelli: I think it worked better in this instance than it usually does, actually. Because at least this was referencing a specific movement.
Emily: Like They Both Die at the End, yo?
Mary: YO YO
Kelli: LOL OMG. I wouldn’t even know if teens were using hip slang. Teens don’t say “yo.”
Emily: YO YO YO. How would you know, old person?
Kelli: Listen, I was a teenager just seven years ago.
Emily: A lot changes in seven years.
Mary: What else about this book? I mean, I enjoyed it but I definitely found myself checking out at parts, just because it’s not FOR ME.
Emily: OMG EMPATHY MARY. LEARN HOW TO READ THINGS THAT AREN’T ABOUT YOU. (I’m kidding mostly.)
Mary: I dooooo.
Kelli: I get what you mean. I have a hard time with it too.
Mary: I read a lot of things that aren’t about me. I study children’s lit! There’s just this level of…preachiness?
Emily: I know.
Kelli: Yeah, I can see that. I guess my real complaint is that I felt like a lot of the characters were very flat, and most of the secondary characters ran together. Other than Lucy, I had a hard time distinguishing between Claudia and the other two friends who's names I can't remember. What did we think about the reveal at the end with the cheerleader?
Emily: I liked it. Feminism doesn’t look one way and being feminine doesn’t mean you’re not feminist.
Mary: Right right. I felt that too. I did like the reveal with the cheerleader, how she stood up for Moxie and everything. It does give that message, Emily, that anyone can be a feminist, even people who don't "look it."
Kelli: Right. And I appreciated that this book also made some attempts at intersectionality.
Emily: Yes, which is something even the book points out the Riot Grrrl movement wasn't great at, Along with most other feminist movements.
Kelli: I liked the way Viv talked about how the friend groups sort of splintered off according to race as they got older because that's just the way things felt like they inevitably had to go—I think that's a very real and very sad thing that happens to teenage girls. And Moxie was something that brought them all together.
Mary: Definitely. That was really nice—all the girls uniting! And organizing outside of school.
Kelli: Yes! One last thing: I really couldn’t get on board with her mom dating a republican. Sorry.
Mary: Yeaaaaah… I mean, I kind of get it. There are different sorts of republicans, and the mom seems to have come to terms with that for herself at least.
Emily: The mom story was really sad.
Kelli: Yeah, the mom story depressed the hell out of me.
Emily: Like, she got away, met this dude, they fell in love, she got pregnant, he died, then she ended up back in this shitty town and her only dream is to get her daughter out of there and send her off to a good college.
Kelli: I was hoping that there was going to be a romance that would develop between her mom and the guy who was working at Xerox reading Stephen King, but it never happened.
Emily: I think that dude was like…20.
Kelli: He had gray hairs!
Emily: So do a lot of 20 somethings, I’ll have you know.
Kelli: Wasn't her mom supposed to be pretty young too though? Like she had her when she was young? Obviously not 20 but.
Emily: Yeah, she was like 30-something maybe?
Kelli: I FELT LIKE THE XEROX GUY AND HER COULD HAVE WORKED.
Emily: IDK I am making things up obviously.
Kelli: You’re welcome.
Mary: Hehehe. What else?
Emily: Ummmm… this is why I hate small towns. The end.
Mary: Hahaha! It’s especially a small town in Texas, which seems somehow worse?
Kelli: I definitely related to the “our school is obsessed with the football team” storyline.
Emily: I loved that they weren’t even good.
Kelli: LOL yes. Even people who are bad at sports are more valuable than people who are good at art!
Emily: Yep. Maybe Viv has a future in graphic design. WHAT DO YOU THINK, KELLI?
Kelli: Sure! Her handwriting wasn’t great, but you know. You have to start somewhere.
Mary: Definitely! Handwriting can be practiced!
Kelli: I feel like she would do well working in marketing. She basically came up with multiple ad campaigns.
Mary: She did, she did.
Emily: She’d be good at viral ad campaigns.
Kelli: I would give it a soft recommend for adults but would definitely recommend for anyone who knows a cool teen girl who isn’t sure about feminism. I think this book could sway a lot of young ladies.
Mary: Same, me too. I think this would be a great book to gift to an Actual Teen.
Emily: Actual Teen™
Kelli: Moxie: A Book for Actual Teens™.
Join us in June for our next YA in Paradise pick, This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki. It's a graphic novel—perfect for beach reading!
We leave you with a little nail art tutorial by Cute Read Create, so you can sport your own Moxie nail art!