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Michelle Newby is a reviewer for Kirkus Reviews and Foreword Reviews, writer, blogger at TexasBookLover.com, member of the Permian Basin Writers' Workshop advisory committee, and a moderator for the Texas Book Festival. Her reviews appear in Pleiades Magazine, Rain Taxi, Concho River Review, Mosaic Literary Magazine, Atticus Review, The Rumpus, PANK Magazine, and The Collagist.
Jennifer Mathieu is the author of Devoted, Afterward, and The Truth About Alice, the winner of the Children’s Choice Book Awards’ Teen Choice Debut Author Award. She teaches high school English in Texas, where she lives in the Houston area with her husband and son.
Roaring Brook Press
Hardcover, 978-1-6267-2635-2, (also available as an e-book and on Audible), 336 pgs., $17.99
September 19, 2017
“Dutiful” Vivian is a junior at East Rockport High. She’s a “nice, normal” girl who tries to stay out of the spotlight, enduring another school year “like a long stretch of highway.” Vivian’s mom, Lisa, keeps a shoebox on the top shelf of her closet labeled “My Misspent Youth,” filled with old zines and photos of her Riot Grrrl days, punked-out in baby-doll dresses with combat boots, half her head shaved, “Riots not diets” inked down one arm. Lisa is a nurse now and wears lavender scrubs covered in butterflies, but when Vivian is upset, Lisa’s mementos of her youth comfort Vivian, even if she doesn’t yet understand why.
One day a boy interrupts a girl voicing her opinion in class one time too many with “Make me a sandwich” and something in Vivian ignites. She’s had enough of the humiliating dress code checks (while the boys wear T-shirts with “Great Legs—When Do They Open?” printed on them), the “bump ’n’ grab” in the hallways (the girls should take this assault and battery as “a compliment”), East Rockport’s “Most Fuckable” bracket posted online. Faced with inaction from the administration, Vivian creates Moxie, a zine for girls to educate, exhort, and inspire. Eventually threatened with suspension and expulsion, Vivian starts a movement that both scares and excites her.
Moxie: A Novel is new young adult fiction from Houston’s Jennifer Mathieu. Vivian’s fast-paced, first-person narration uncannily channels the sometimes insecure-and-anxious, sometimes righteous-and-incandescent, rapid-cycling emotions of teenagers (Vivian: “I am certain that I’m the first person on Earth to ever feel this awake and alive”). In the beginning her timidity is frustrating, but you’ll soon be fist-pumping and cheering her on. We care about the well-developed, relatable, sympathetic characters of East Rockport High, and we hope the entitled creeps get what’s coming to them.
Mathieu skillfully skewers Friday Night Lights culture; during the mandatory pep rallies, her characters “hide toward the back, like people who only go to church on Christmas.” Moxie is often funny. The local funeral home sports a sign that says, “Don’t text and drive. We can wait!”
Mathieu’s own interest in feminism was kindled by a high school teacher who once called her a “feminazi” during class, so “the joke is on you. Revenge is best served cold, you jerk,” she writes in the novel’s dedication. The Author’s Note at the end of the book includes a list of online resources and reading recommendations.
Kudos to Moxie’s design and marketing teams. The book jacket and interior style take a cue from Vivian’s creation, bringing the style of the zine alive for readers. The laudatory blurbs included with the advance review copy are all from girls between the ages of fourteen and eighteen. Amy Poehler’s Paper Kite production company has acquired the film rights to Moxie.
Although a fun, quick read, Moxie challenges assumptions and divisions masquerading as tradition. It is an encouragement, a comfort, an inspiration, an education, and a call to action. Refuse to sublimate objectification; stake your claim.
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