Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

Vivian is one of the ‘nice girls’ at East Rockport High. She has a small group of friends, and her main mission is to fly under the radar and not draw too much attention to herself. Her grandparents describe her as ‘dutiful’, perhaps in sharp contrast to her mum, who was a hell-raising riot grrrl in her nineties youth. But as it turns out in the entertaining and highly satisfying Moxie, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Inspired by a shoebox full of her mum’s old feminist zines and a Bikini Kill soundtrack, Vivian is moved to take anonymous action when sexist comments by male students go undisciplined by their teachers. She starts a zine – Moxie – and distributes it in the bathrooms at school, urging the girls around her to demonstrate their support for their fellow students and fight back.

Unfortunately, there’s plenty of sexism and inequity at East Rockport High – the vague and random dress code checks and public shaming of female students, the focus on the school football team to the utter neglect of the girls’ sports teams, and the ‘bump n grab’ game, which results in the indecent assault of female students.

This is a fun and thoughtful exploration of the types of sexism that weigh most on teenage girls, and the variety of opinions and attitudes around how best to tackle it. Vivian isn’t always in agreement with her friends, and her new boyfriend isn’t always the perfect male ally. While not a major focus of the book, Mathieu introduces intersectionality and the limitations of the original riot grrrl movement by including characters of colour and LGBT students. A rousing example of smart, brave girls using creativity and activism to make their own personal revolution.  

Leanne Hall is a children’s and YA specialist at Readings Kid and the grants officer for the Readings Foundation. She also writes books for children and young adults.

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Jennifer Mathieu

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