Book Review: Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

moxie the paper trail diary

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu, via Roaring Brook Press, out now.

It’s been fascinating watching what kinds of YA books are coming out now in tandem to the world’s current political climate. I think this is where we can see change in lit, starting with young people who are fired up or need something to fire them up. We’ve seen this with Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give most specifically this year. And when we get onto talking about history repeating itself, it’s good to talk about the positive things that are bubbling up, too, like how we can show people how tools like zines and music and power in numbers can pack a punch.

I am the last person to say that ‘zines are dead,’ but I do think that they mostly exist within certain subcultures and that they ebb and flow through decades. The riot grrrls of the ’90s are now moms, people! I hadn’t thought much about how they’re being made by teens these days, or if they could fit into YA books, until it happened (so I’m glad someone else was thinking about it). When I heard about Jennifer Mathieu’s book Moxie, I practically fell out of my seat. This was the book I didn’t know I’d been so desperately waiting for.

I’m so happy Moxie is now out in the world, because this book means SO MUCH to me.

Moxie is the story of Vivan Carter, whose mom was once a riot grrrl, but any evidence now sleeps in a box in the closet while her mom works extra shifts as a nurse. Vivan’s a ‘nice girl’ and keeps to herself but fantasizes about her mom’s riotous past. Viv expects to live a normal, boring life, but when she sees a series of awful sexist things happen at school, something inside her explodes. She gets royally pissed off and knows exactly what to do: start a zine that calls out the problems and secretly leave it around the school. It’s in her blood. She wants to be kept secret from the zines – she doesn’t want or need the attention, and she wants girls to pick them up on their own accord. Nobody expects it’s her. She includes calls to action to see if anyone will join her – like in the first zine, she asks people to come to school the next day with hearts and stars drawn on their hands. While students are hesitant at first to be marked as rebels, soon others start to take Moxie into their own directions, and suddenly, Viv’s started a feminist revolution at her conservative Texas high school. BAM. Moxie girls fight back!

If you liked 13 Reasons Why but wanted to see more of a resistance or girls fighting back at their abusers and the system – this is what you’ll be looking for.

So, the zines. They’re in the book! Jen has made zines before, so she didn’t come as a newbie to this concept (thankfully), and she made the Moxie zines that are within the pages. It does a huge service to the story, and shows how simple it is to make a zine. Also, as someone who makes zines, I got a huge kick out of any time someone referred to Moxie as ‘that newsletter’ and Viv thinks ‘it’s a zine, but whatever.’ Classic. I really hope this inspires teens and adults to take up making zines as a way to get their thoughts, opinions, and feelings out there – it’s incredibly cathartic and can be quite effective, as we see here. I also just love that readers will be learning about zines and how they’re used.

I also love how much learning about feminism is in the story. Viv and her friends didn’t exactly identify as feminists before, but you see how they learn about it, grow with it, and then work with it. Viv’s love interest also gets a good reality check as a guy who wants to be an ally but doesn’t realize that some of his actions are sexist. (And the love interest is not the main part of the book, which I appreciate.) I know we all have our points on modern feminism, and there are parts that could’ve used more inclusion, but I see this book as a great starter for teens who don’t quite understand it yet. Hopefully they can see how it’s written out that certain actions and comments from men can be really hurtful. And thus I really hope young men read this and learn from it, too.

In a moment celebrating with friends, Viv says: “it occurs to me that this is what it means to be a feminist. Not a humanist or equalist or whatever. But a feminist. It’s not a bad word. After today it might be my favourite 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.”

Moxie is about finding your voice and making people listen. Moxie is about using anger in a constructive way. Moxie is about friendship and looking out for each other. Moxie calls for change. Moxie is coming out at the perfect time.

It’s funny, I’ve been mulling this post over for days, and I feel like there should be so much more to say because I burst at the seams any time someone asks or brings it up. But I don’t want to overwhelm you! I just really wish the best for this book, and am so happy it exists. I was thrilled the whole time I was reading it. This is going to be either my #1 or #2 of 2017 for sure. But if you see a copy of the latest Broken Pencil magazine out in the world, you’ll find more about Moxie in it from me!

I so loved spending time with Viv and her friends, and you will too. It’s fun, inspiring, and the right amount of ragey. I drew a lot of hearts and underlines and wrote a lot of ‘omgs’ and ‘you sucks’ throughout my copy (that last one aimed at the awful bros). I think this is a good book to make your mark in. Amy Poehler’s already optioned it for a movie, so that means hopefully more Moxie in the future.

Now looksee, I got an interview with the author!

What inspired you to write a book about zines?
I first learned about zines when I read a book called Zine by the writer Pagan Kennedy; the book was a collection of Pagan’s zines called Pagan’s Head. A friend of mine gave me the collection in college and I loved it so much. I love the intimacy a zine provides, especially in this digital age. I love paper. I’m a big believer in writing about your obsessions and interests and translating that love into fiction, so when I started thinking of what I wanted to write next, I made a list of interests and zines were on there, along with feminism and Riot Grrrl. The idea for MOXIE came to me very suddenly and I was in love with it instantly!

Did you make zines when you were younger? Did you listen to riot grrrl? If yes, please explain what you made/listened to!
I actually did make a zine! It was called Jennifer (boring title!) and I started it during winter break of my senior year of college. I was partly inspired by Pagan Kennedy, partly interested in finding a way to express my confusion over impending adulthood. I can’t remember how many issues I made, but I think there were about 13 or 14 over the course of several years, like from age 21 until 26 or 27. I did listen to Riot Grrrl. In college a friend sent me a mix tape of Bikini Kill songs. A bit later I bought Sleater-Kinney’s Dig Me Out album. I had an instant connection with that music. It spoke to me on such a deep level. I loved it.

How did this get in the hands of Amy Poehler’s company? What can you tell me about what stage this is in? Do you have a casting wish list?
I’m fortunate enough to have a brilliant agent named Kerry Sparks who got the manuscript into the hands of the equally amazing Dana Spector, a book to film agent. Dana read the manuscript and immediately thought it would be of interest to certain folks, including Amy Poehler. She sent the manuscript out over the Thanksgiving weekend and by Christmas we had a deal. It all happened very quickly. Speaking with Amy on the phone during the negotiation process was a dream come true. She was so genuine, funny, and smart. She got what I was trying to do with the book; I cried when I got off the phone because she is such a hero of mine! For right now it’s really in development. Her company has a set amount of time to try and write a script, find funding, etc. I don’t really have a casting wish list, and ultimately, it will be Amy’s call how all that develops. But I trust her so much I’m not worried one bit!

What kind of research did you do for the book?
I love doing research and normally do quite a bit for my books, but for this one – not much! All of it came from my own background, experiences, interests, etc. So no research this time – besides getting very nostalgic and replaying old favorite songs and rewatching interviews with Riot Grrrls like Katheen Hanna.

Did you listen to riot grrrl while writing?
Oh, totally! I don’t always listen to music when I write, but for this book, yes. I listened to a lot of Bikini Kill, Team Dresch, Bratmobile, Sleater-Kinney, and other bands. I found this new Riot Grrrl-inspired band out of San Antonio called Fea that I also became obsessed with. They are a Chicana punk band and cool as hell.

Did you make the zines that are featured throughout the book? (Fantastic idea, btw.)
Yes, I did! I’m so glad you liked the idea. I had so much fun doing that. I keep thinking about how my old friends from my college days and my twenties are going to laugh so hard when they see them because they have the same vibe and feel as my zine from way back when, including the type of clip art I used.

What do you want teens to take from this story? Why is it so important to be told now?
I want teenagers, especially young women, to walk away from reading MOXIE knowing that living your life as a feminist is a joyful, wonderful way to live. Women’s liberation is about fighting for gender equality and freeing women and girls up from the toxic hold of a culture that expects them to follow a very prescriptive role that isn’t healthy or rewarding, but women’s liberation is also full of joy! As a feminist, I have created amazing bonds with female friends that aren’t about competition for men, for example; they’re just supporting each other. Being a feminist has had a positive impact on my life as a wife and mother, too. Because I’m a feminist, I married a man who supports my dreams and goals just as I support his, and he sees his role in raising our son as just as important as mine. Because I’m a feminist, I can raise my son to understand being a man isn’t about suppressing feelings or domination but about being a person who stands up for justice and for the right thing.  Choosing to live your life as a feminist means living a better life.

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