I was really drawn to this book for a couple reasons: the cover is so compelling (the color contrast is really bold and I love it), the title is awesome (something about the word moxie gets me all pumped up) and the description is super inspiring (feminism in a small town America high school). So, pretty much no reason not to try it!
“We shout back… Our voices are so loud. So big. So much. So beautiful.”
Quick summary of the plot: Vivian is a junior at a high school in rural Texas, where everything revolves around the Friday night football games. Which means that the football players are essentially gods…and allowed to get away with anything. This status quo is something that starts to chafe at Vivian, especially as she makes friends with some new students from bigger cities who help her realize that it’s not like that everywhere. So, inspired by her mother’s past as a Riot Grrrl, Vivian secretly starts a feminist “zine” at her school, which slowly but surely attracts more and more girls who are sick of being treated so discriminatorily, unequally, and condescendingly. And in the end, these girls (and some male supporters) make sure that their voices are heard, once and for all.
This book starts in a fairly cheesy, typical high school novel sort of way. I mean the threads of ‘football gods” and inferiority of women are there from the start, but the basic plotline is still following your normal high school set up. Girls who are best friends, new kids rocking the boat, secret crushes, etc. And honestly, even after the first few “editions” of Moxie, as things are starting to build up, the mood generally stays in that adolescent niche – important messages and topics are being brought into the plot (and don’t get me wrong, a number of actions by the male students and school admin make me straight angry), but basically, the feel is still mostly lighthearted. However, as the “movement” starts to grow, and we get more and more momentum (and thus, insights into other female student’s experiences), the mood changes slightly. It’s still completely believable for the school-aged plot, etc., but it definitely has a heavier, more impactful, feel. And by the time we get to the end, the big hurrah moment, the crescendo, if you will, I won’t lie: I cried. (At this point, I’d like you to bear in mind that I’m an emotional crier – so essentially, I cry a lot.) The point is though, that it hit home to me in such a real way because no matter where you are from or how progressive (or not) your home is, these situations (gasp-ably terrible situations) are experienced by, or at least recognizable to, all of us. And that’s just…so sad. And truly, the fact that these young women found a way to band together and create a real change in a positive way was so inspiring and uplifting to read. It just really hit me in the emotions.
“…this is what it means to be a feminist. Not a humanist or an equalist or whatever. But a feminist. It’s not a bad word. After today it might be my favorite word. Because really all it is is girls supporting each other and wanting to be treated like human beings in a world that’s always finding ways to tell them they’re not.”
There’s a few other things that are covered that I really liked and want to make sure to point out (I’m going with a list form, cause they are a little all over the place).
- This is a really truthful portrayal of the struggle to find who you are and what you believe in, separate from your friends and community. This is particularly hard in high school, or in small town, “traditional” and “limited option” settings like this, and I appreciated that a lot. It’s not easy.
- I LOVE that art and handwriting of the zines. It’s cute and clean, but also totally accessible. There’s nothing spectacularly artsy or design-genius about them, which leaves the focus on the message, as well as (hopefully) creating an accessible goal for any readers who think they might want to try something like this. It really makes this type of fighting back seem possible for a “normal” person.
- Relatedly, I like the little community forming and “getting back” ideas that Vivian and the other girls come up with as part of Moxie. They too are accessible and doable and grow alongside the group, in proportion to it, but are clear and actionable and illustrative.
- I loved the way the book addresses intersectionality in feminism. From complete oversight in the past to the difficulties in the present and the slow growth of the participants of Moxie in realizing it. It’s realistic and optimistic, but recognizes shortcomings at the same time. Vivian’s own growth related to this concept is well written (both towards Kiera and Emma, as main examples) and shows that even with the best intentions and goals, we still need to be open to what we are missing. I also love the message that missing something doesn’t mean you have failed, it’s just a chance to fix and improve and be more inclusive moving forwards.
- Along those same lines, the inclusion of a “good guy” in the mix (Seth), as well as a more experienced feminist (Lucy) and a more reluctant(?) feminist (Claudia), all do a great job illustrating that we all start in a different place and need to accommodate each other’s growth. We may take different paths to get to the endpoint, but our goals are the same and writing each other off hurts only ourselves.
- In general, the prevailing message that so many things, from external systems to internal prejudices/beliefs, threaten to splinter us apart, but that the more we stand together, the stronger we are, was moving and heartening. Such a great message to spread to young women and their allies.
“…my mind is full of images of girls dancing together and smiling and holding hands, taking up all the space they want.”
Overall, this novel really grew with it’s message and takeaways as it went. In the same way that Vivian grows and learns and is inspired throughout, as is Moxie, as is the reader. Although it’s definitely a YA representation of feminism, that doesn’t make it any less important. The morals in this story are definitely ones that I support instilling as early as possible, and Mathieu makes is clear, here, how possible that is. No matter how old you are or where you live, you don’t just have to take it, you can fight back! I feel like as a high schooler, I would have felt so strong and fierce and capable of actually doing something after reading this…and even now, as I mentioned, the significance really hit me. Definitely a quick, light-ish read that I recommend if you are looking to be pumped up!