Book review: Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

One of the things I like about book clubs is that you end up reading books you probably wouldn’t otherwise. I wouldn’t have read Moxie if it hadn’t been part of the Zoella Book Club 2017; I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover but there’s something about electric pink ones that always puts me off.

Viv attends the most sexist high school in the history of the world, where the antics of the football team are ignored because the captain is the principal’s son. Money is channelled into the football team and away from other clubs and sports, girls are singled out for violating the dress code even when modestly dressed, and boys wearing t-shirts with vulgar, sexist slogans are allowed to continue on with their day. Viv takes inspiration from her mother’s punk rock, feminist past and secretly creates a new zine in protest, setting off a chain of events that brings the girls of East Rockport together in protest.

Okay, I know a lot of people love this book so this might be a bit controversial but I didn’t really enjoy it. Here’s why:

I had difficulty relating…

…to the dress code checks

It seems like secondary school in England is pretty different from High School in America. Or at least, it is very different from how it was when I went to school. I have never seen, been part of, or heard a first hand account of, a dress code check in a school. I do know they happen (the Daily Mail has some aggrieved parent or other complaining about little Jonny being sent home because he had a football crest shaved into his hair almost weekly), but all the schools in my town growing up wore uniform so I have no idea how realistic the events in the book are.

…to the jocks

I have come across so many American films, TV programmes and books in which for the school sports stars and cheerleaders get away with anything that I genuinely worry about American high school culture. Is it really like that? I’d love to spend a few days in one to find out. I don’t really think we have anything quite like this in England. I’m not saying that there aren’t issues or that every school treats every student equally, but we don’t have one group of people that are universally valued above others by students and teachers alike. Not that I know of anyway. It’s hard for me to picture a school where this blatant favouritism would be allowed.

…to the lack of solidarity

Okay, girls can be pretty vicious and cliquey, and an exchange of bitchy comments isn’t exactly rare, but in my experience, girls and women will pull together against sexist behaviour pretty quickly. For proof of this, simply hang around in a club toilet until someone comes in upset about their boyfriend cheating on them/dumping them/behaving like an idiot (you won’t have to wait long), and you will witness an awesome display of girl power from strangers and friends alike. I can’t understand why the girls of East Rockport would have waited as long as they did to speak out; Viv’s mum says that the High School was sexist when she was there, did nobody think to do something about it in the intervening years?

Secret identity

Everybody knows everybody else’s business in East Rockport. I don’t see how that Viv would have been able to keep the fact that she was the creator of the zine secret for as long as she does.

Mixed messages

On the face of it, this is story about how you can change the world if you stand up for yourself. Awesome.

BUT, Viv takes inspiration from her Mum who was a bit of an equality campaigner in her punk rock youth, and who is now living back in the same small-minded town, with the same sexist high school – is this what’s in store for Viv, despite her apparent victory?

Also, Mathieu touches on some racist and anti-homosexual feelings in the town but there’s no resolution of these things. Are we to understand that only sexism is worth fighting against? (I’m being purposefully glib here, I am absolutely sure that that isn’t the message Mathieu wants us to take away, but I found it a little unsatisfying).

It wasn’t all bad though, there were a couple of things I liked:

 

Girl power

Any writing that helps people to understand what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour, and how to deal with behaviour they are not comfortable with is a good thing for me. I struggled to relate to some of the examples of sexism in Moxie but the world is full of casual sexism/racism/homophobia and I love the idea that high school kids can unite to stamp this out.

Friendship

Viv’s life-long friendship with Claudia is exactly the kind that everyone should have. There are so many books and TV programmes that suggest that girls will not accept new people; it was refreshing to see Claudia’s understanding and comparative welcoming of Lucy into the fold, despite their differences.

Overall then, I’m glad I got the chance to read something different. I can understand why some people will love Moxie; on the surface it is an inspiring story about fighting back, but it doesn’t hold up to deeper scrutiny for me.

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