Book Review: Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

January 31, 2018

Edition: Hachette Australia Paperback
Release Date: September 26th, 2017
Pages: 340
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Source: Received as an ARC from Hachette Australia

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.
Moxie is a near perfect and majorly relevant read that should be mandatory reading for all high school students. It is an empowering and necessary call to arms in the form of YA feminist contemporary that will knock your socks off! Set in the small Texas town of East Rockport, Vivian and her female peers are subject to some seriously obnoxious and blatantly sexist behaviours and rules, all of which are either enforced or excused by the School's staff who are committed to enabling the toxic masculinity of the school's 'beloved' football team. Here lies the catalyst for Vivian Carter's own feminist awakening, an inevitable moment given both her Mother's own rebellious youth as a Riot Grrrl and the disgustingly chauvinist environment in which she is forced to live. 

The only way one could possibly view the incidents which occur at East Rockport High as unrealistic or the characters as caricatures, was if they hadn't been a part of the school environment or known someone who has, for the past 20 years. Anyone who is a girl and anyone who has ever been to high school will not find the context of Moxie at all unfamiliar, it is unsettlingly real. The novel begins with new girl and resident badass, Lucy Hernandez, challenging an accepted sexist comment within the classroom as lead-Jackass Mitchell Wilson interrupts Lucy’s commentary to order her to “make [him] a sandwich”. What proceeds from the story’s beginning is a realistic and relatable depiction of the sense of helplessness and raging fury inherent to all girls under patriarchy, especially patriarchy left unchecked. Exhausted by the continued misogyny at her school, Vivian is empowered by her mother’s old ‘my misspent youth’ box filled to the brim with evidence of her days as a Riot Grrl and featuring countless feminist zines from the 90’s, to take a stand – Moxie girls fight back! 

The potential of teachers to enable and ignore sexism within their school’s hit home the most for me. After only recently coming out of a situation in the school environment where the staff where not there for me and instead contributed to further victimisation, I am well aware of the way in which teachers can and do fail their female students. This transgression is not limited to male staff; it is most damning when it comes from another woman. In Vivian’s world this is embodied through sexist and sex-selective dress codes, trauma minimisation, biased distribution of funds, objectification, and the unbridled harassment by the football team. 21st century school girls have more likely than not, been victims of at least one of the above acts whether that be in the school or workplace environment. We’d like to think in this day and age, depictions of such things have no relevance on our progressive and egalitarian way of living, but that’s clearly not the truth. Moxie does a brilliant job at highlighting the everyday acts of sexism women and girls are accustomed to. When such a huge focus of school is about attracting the ‘right’ sort of attention and avoiding the ‘wrong’ sort of attention, we know that there is work to do. 

I think one of the many things that are really cool about Moxie is the way in which it demonstrates the links between third wave feminism and fourth wave feminism, and how this is represented generationally through Vivian and her Mother who fought similar battles on different battlegrounds. The intergenerational commitment to women’s liberation created an interesting family dynamic and served to represent the continued relevance of the movement.

I’ve always been a fan of feminist zines, kind of nostalgic about them really as they were most popular during the era of feminism before my time. So I loved that Vivian brought it back old school to fight modern-day sexism in her own meso world. Her resistance started off small by calling all females fed up with the sexist remarks to turn up to school with stars and hearts drawn on her hands. Vivian isn’t sure at first what exactly she wants to achieve, nor is she sure of how she’ll deal with the outcome of her sudden act of bravery. All that Vivian knows is that she’s angry and wants to do something about it – a powerful moment in each and every girl’s life when they’ve finally decided enough is enough. 

Vivian is a total badass yet she’s a normal girl just like the rest of us. Her journey as a Moxie girl was realistic as she begins hesitantly and frequently has moments of doubt. She had to learn to cope with the resistance Moxie was met with which was tough but crucial. Also fun fact, the copy of the book actually includes images of each and every zine Vivian distributes, which was really fun to look at and made the book much more intimate. 

“It’s like I’m living in a feminist fantasy,” - “but it can’t be a complete fantasy because Roxane Gay isn’t here.”

In her novel, Mathieu demonstrates that women are also capable of working against women (as shown through a female teacher who helps enforce the sexist dress code and through popular girl Emma Johnson), that they too can uphold the sexist statuesque. However, through Emma, Mathieu makes a pointed effort to subvert the ‘mean popular girl’ trope through evoking empathy and understanding of her character and by refusing to position her as an enemy to either Vivian or her movement. She brings a degree of depth and heart to her character unafforded to other popular girls in most Young Adult novels.

Mathieu makes a noticeable and appreciated effort to highlight the race, class, sexuality, and popularity divisions that all too often separate girls. Vivian is intersectional and inclusive in her initiatives, Mathieu making the much-needed commentary that women of colour experience a heightened and more complex form of sexism on the basis of race, which is ignored by many separatist feminist movements. We even had references from notable black feminists Audre Lorde, Angela Davis and Roxane Gay. However, in being such an advocate of Intersectionality, I personally would have loved greater dialogue on this. I felt this was just the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps Vivian could have made more of an effort to reach out to the women of colour at her school to hear about the way in which their experiences of sexism differ from hers, thus requiring different solutions that could have been highlighted in her zines.

She means is [the club] just white girls?
In a very realistic way, Mathieu portrays the way in which some young girls have been hesitant to adopt the feminist label and to contribute to the movement (this contrast is shown through Claudia who is the polar opposite of the self-identifying feminist, Lucy). Girls have been taught to buy into the negative connotations and stereotypes attributed to the movement and have been conditioned since birth to be dutiful and ladylike – we see ‘good girl’ Vivian confront this very struggle within the story. Girls are raised to believe that the institutionalised sexist harassment and double standards they experience are just harmless ‘parts of life’ all girls must experience, almost as if being victim to man’s supposed inability to control themselves is the plight of all women and girls.

Some of the novel’s most heart-warming moments came from the genuine displays of solidarity and friendship between the girls of East Rockport High School sparked by the Moxie zines. Undoubtedly, the zine touches many of the girls and drastically changes the way they interact with one another. It allows them to recognise their own agency and ability to contribute to change, whilst fostering a beautiful and budding sisterhood.

Moxie does involve a romantic subplot between Vivian and new-kid and feminist ally, Seth Acosta. Their relationship is cute and supportive. Seth is mostly encouraging and understanding and is one of the only people trusted with the knowledge that Vivian is behind Moxie. Through Viv’s relationship with Seth, I was able to relate to her awkwardness around boys and her inability to keep up a conversation even when she knows exactly what to say. Viv deems herself “not the kind of girl this kind of thing happens to” and I loved watching her grow surer of herself. While I didn't find the romance necessary, I really enjoyed that it wasn't the central focus of the story. It didn’t take away from her feminism nor did it get in the way of Moxie. I did, however, have a slight problem with Seth’s constant need to reaffirm that “not all guys are dicks, especially not the one’s up on their baseball stats” which really got tiring after a while but Viv handled it accordingly so go girl!

Overall, Jennifer Mathieu does not dissapoint with Moxie, it will fuel the inner feminist in every young girl. It is infuriating in all the right ways, forcing us to recognise the flaws in our everyday lives. It can easily be read in one sitting and will leave you feeling inspired and ready to take on the world afterwards. Moxie is the perfect fiction companion to novels such as Clementine Ford's magnificent non-fiction memoir and feminist manifesto, 'Fight Like A Girl'.


  1. oooh I'm very keen to read this someday! I read Afterwards by this author and LOVED it but my feminist heart just wants to read Moxie so bad. I'm really glad it was intersectional about feminism too. <3 That's so important and what we all need to read more of!

  2. I'm really starting to hear some great things about this! Just reading your review makes me glad that my high school was pretty decent and supportive of all the students (despite the horrible catholic school uniforms that were sweltering in summer haha).


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