Moxie

Look who’s BACK.

(me).

Happy 2018!

TW sexual assault, harassment

Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with sexist dress codes. Fed up with gross comments from guys during class. Fed up with her high school teachers who let it happen! But most of all, Viv is fed up with always following the rules.

Viv’s mum was a punk rock Riot Grrrl, inspiring Viv to create Moxie, a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her class mates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond and begin to spread the Moxie message: Moxie girls fight back!

And before Viv knows it, she has started a girl revolution.

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Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu is a delightful but fierce feminist call to arms for teenage girls everywhere. I loved it. It reminded me of being sixteen and reading The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks for the first time. Like it was formative, somehow.

Much like Frankie, in Viv we meet a girl who is torn between desperately wanting to fit in, and dying to disrupt the status quo. She attends what might actually be the Worst High School Ever (reading this book made me weirdly grateful for my own high school for the first time. Growing up in a place where teachers included feminist and gender theory in nearly everything and where posters that said things like ‘Some people are gay. Get over it.’ hung in hallways and classrooms was something I for sure took for granted as the norm at the time). Her school is completely ruled by the boys’ football team. The boys on the team are allowed to behave with impunity – whether they harass and bully girls or defy school rules, their actions never seem to come with any consequences. It doesn’t help that the captain’s dad also happens to be the principal.

All of this is to say that the patriarchy is in operation in full force in Viv’s school. When girls speak in class boys often respond with ‘make me a sandwich’, and should the girl stand up for herself it is often she who is punished for her ‘bad behaviour’. Similarly, girls are targeted by the school for dress code violations (which sometimes boil down to simply: having breasts), while boys are allowed to come to school wearing shirts bearing sexist slogans with no repercussions.

There was so much to love in the multiple feminist awakenings that happen in this book. For Viv, creating Moxie came from the values she’d grown up around but suppressed because, in the words of Bridget Jones, there is nothing quite so unattractive as loud feminist ranting. Seeing the combined forces of her own brewing anger and her friendship with Lucy, a new girl at the school and loud and proud feminist push Viv out of the teenage girl zone of wanting to be liked and into feminist activism – albeit secret feminist activism – made me so god damn happy.

There was something deeply authentic about the various reactions to the brewing feminist activism at Viv’s high school. One of the most potent storylines for me was how Viv’s best friend Claudia responded to the cause. Claudia is not into it. She feels weird about taking on the boys, and alienated from her best friend who has suddenly embraced a cause, and a new friendship that she doesn’t understand. It’d be really easy to hate Claudia, but Mathieu’s skillful storytelling uses her journey to illustrate the resistance to the idea of feminism that so many girls experience – the but I like men group, if you like.

While Moxie wasn’t perfect – I don’t think the perfect feminist novel exists – Mathieu did a really fantastic job of introducing the concepts of feminism to a teen audience. While she doesn’t expand on it as much as I would have liked, she introduces the concept of intersectional feminism – when Moxie first starts, Keira, a black girl in Viv’s class asks her whether or not it’s just a white girl thing, and it is mentioned on several occasions that the school has a race issue – though it doesn’t really go into it in a particularly deep or interesting way. In a book about a white girl though, the concept of intersectionality is present and something she and the other women in her life – at one point her mother criticises the overwhelming whiteness of the Riot Grrrls – are conscious of and learning about, so my final impression of the book was an inclusive and positive one. Also there’s a feminist reading list in the author’s note, for which Jennifer receives full points from me.

This was one of my favourite YA reads of 2017. I’ve never read a Jennifer Mathieu book before, but I intend to read all of them now.

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Reading slump solutions

Today I want to talk about the biggest enemy of the book blogger. It’s not Netflix, an active social life, demanding job or insecurity about your place in a community that you’re increasingly uncomfortable with.

No, it’s that most dreaded of non-physical ailments: the book slump.

Characters who would have usually lit up your life for a week lie dead and limp on the pages, plot twists that would have you reaching for your phone to tweet a GIF in reaction seem pedestrian at best. Worst of all you might find yourself reading the blurb of a YA contemporary in which two young people (her ‘too skinny’ and him possessing a surprising amount of sexual prowess for a 17-year-old*) fall in love under adverse circumstances (recently traumatically deceased parent/best friend/ acquaintance from school they just can’t forget)and think it seems… stupid.

*just me?

Obviously such a situation can’t be allowed to fester. So pop the kettle on, light up a pumpkin spice candle, ease your feet into your slippers and relax. I got you.

Bookstagram

Bookstagram is without a doubt one of the dumbest things we do in the book community. It’s all aesthetics and no substance, which is pretty much the opposite of what reading is about. But I love it. Looking at aesthetically pleasing, highly stylised book pictures makes me imagine the aesthetically pleasing, highly stylised life I might have if I were only reading more.

Booktube

If there’s one thing that gets me more pumped than pretty pictures of books, it’s videos of smart people being excited about books. Kayley Hyde is my favourite, if you’re in need of recommendations.

Newsletters

If you’re getting lost in a novel, maybe you need something a little shorter. Everyone and their mother has a newsletter these days. Newsletters can take the form of something like Lenny, a feminist e-zine that hits your inbox once a week with a treasure trove of original writing by women ranging from personal essays to interviews to the most poetic horoscopes you’ll ever read; to something more like The Bleed, the newsletter of the Call Your Girlfriend podcast*, which is a summary of news items, articles and pictures Aminatou and Anne wanted to talk about over the month but didn’t have time for.

*Have you listened to Aminatou’s interview with Hillary Clinton yet? Omg.

Read poetry

A reading slump is often indicative of our emotional state. If you’re feeling crappy and looking to see that reflected somewhere, read poetry. Poetry is raw emotion with all the exposition of a novel removed. Sometimes cutting to the heart of the matter will snap you out of that slump and reinvigorate more than just your reading life.

Shake things up

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One of my biggest ‘post-grad realisations’ is the importance of shaking up your routine. When you don’t have the beginning and ending of school terms doing it for you, you have to do it for yourself. This applies in all areas of your life, including reading. If all you’re reading is YA contemporaries and you’re feeling bored, pick up a novel that is completely outside of your wheelhouse. Try some non-fiction, or a classic, or look up the Belletrist pick for the month because it’s bound to be beautiful, clever and personally and politically relevant.

You’re not growing if you’re not changing, or however the saying goes.

S’later, slump!

June Wrap Up

We’re over half way through 2017.

Can we all take a second for an obligatory: whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?!

Summer is well and truly here, and I am blogging from a slightly rotting bench in our garden with hair that still smells like last night’s barbecue.

Things could be worse.

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So, this month I reviewed:

The Good Immigrant – Ed. by Nikesh Shukla

Thoughts: A really vital book I have since recommended to basically everyone I know. I especially think any UK readers should order this one. So much of what we read about race is through an American lens, and I think that can lead us white Brits to the assumption of racism as an ‘American problem’  – like obesity and electing reality TV presidents – but that is not the case. We have real systemic issues that must be dealt with.

Kindred Spirits – Rainbow Rowell

Thoughts: An adorable story of nerd culture and romance. 5 stars.

The Name of the Star – Maureen Johnson

Thoughts: It’s kind of like Gilmore Girls meets Buffy. What else could you possibly want?

The Madness Underneath – Maureen Johnson

Thoughts: If you need to distract yourself from life, I recommend hammer weilding ghosts. This series does the escapism trick well.

The Shadow Cabinet – Maureen Johnson

Thoughts: A wing of British government… and a ghost fighting organisation!

 

After spending the earlier months of the year avoiding it a bit – variety is important! – YA has become such a haven for me lately as the world just keeps getting worse. While I think it is important to be informed, when I feel like my brain is going to melt there’s really nothing better than a series about ghost hunting teenagers.

OTHER THAN BOOKS: Some recommendations that you didn’t ask for…

To watch: THIS Soul Pancake series about dating, hosted by perhaps the most adorable man alive. It’s a really lovely show about the universal issues of dating but without the heteronormative lens through which we normally experience… basically everything.

To read: Betty Gilpin of GLOW on ‘What it’s like to have pea-sized confidence with watermelon-sized boobs’. Whatever the size of your boobs I think you’ll find something in this beautiful, vulnerable piece on self confidence (or lack thereof. As someone who wore oversized sweatshirts in the height of summer until she was 18, I can certainly relate).

To listen: Melodrama, obviously. 

May Wrap-Up

The latest Lenny Letter pointed out to me that we are half way through 2017. I should have had this figured out already, but that particular information has me a little bit floored.

May was a weird month. At the beginning, I was a waitress, with little hope of not being one in the near future. Then, pretty much out of the blue, I was offered an internship at a magazine I did some work experience at a few months back. So I’m there now. Temporarily. I have not processed it yet. I had to interview a chef yesterday and I barely stopped myself saying yeah it’s like that in the restaurant I work in. 

Come August I most likely won’t have a job, but I’m trying really hard not to think too much about that.

Life = Up. In. The. Air.

For so many reasons. There’s a general election happening in the UK this Thursday. It also came pretty much out of the blue and at the start I was so determined not to care about it.

Not caring about things isn’t really how I roll.

If Theresa May and her awful Conservative government get back in my heart will be broken.

My brother turned 27.

And my blog turned 2.

Whaaaaaaat?! As per usual, I do not know what to make of any of it.

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So, that being the case, let’s review the month.

I read:

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

Feelings: I want to sit in a busy city centre and hand out copies of it to everyone I see.

The Rules Do Not Apply – April Levy

Feelings: An interesting look at survival in the face of life fucking you over. Truthfully, I didn’t get as much from this as I hoped I would, but I really enjoyed Levy’s fearlessness is describing her infidelity, her miscarriage and her wife’s alcoholism.

A Conjuring of Light – V.E. Shwab

Feelings: This past week I reread Maureen Johnson’s Shades of London books just because I really needed to think about something other than the election. I know that this series will be a similar sort of comfort reread for me in the future. If you need to say goodbye to reality for a little while (and who doesn’t, honestly? This series’ll do the job).

Play It As It Lays – Joan Didion

Feelings: A dark novel about ennui and suicide. Absolutely riveting. Adored it.

I also wrote…

Should characters be likeable?

OTHER THAN BOOKS: Some recommendations you didn’t ask for…

To Read: This fascinating piece about 13 Reasons Why (which I still have not watched. Sorry. I will! I promise!) and whether such frank and – from what I hear – graphic depictions of teen suicide help the problem or contribute to it.

To Watch: Handmaid’s Tale. All of the trigger warnings. I have only watched one episode and I haven’t psyched myself up to watch to second but OMG Necessary viewing. I LOVE Elisabeth Moss.

To Listen: Gone Now the new album by Bleachers. In the past couple years I finally shed any pretensions I had about having a ‘cool taste in music’ and admitted I love straight up POP. As such, Jack Antonoff is essentially my musical hero and boyfriend.

When do you read?

I used to read almost every morning before starting my day. Back when I was student I would roll out of bed around 9am most days, stumble downstairs for a cup of tea before sinking back into bed with a book.

It was the best.

These days, it’s not like that.

I work full time now – usually between 35 and 50 hours a week. Long mornings spent in bed with a book are a thing of the past. They have been replaced with long hours taking food to hostile strangers.

Reading became something that I had to make time for.

I find it frustrating in 90% of people when they say ‘I don’t have time to read!

What most people actually mean by that is: I don’t make time to read.

And there are a bunch of valid reasons for not making time. Maybe your days are mentally taxing. Maybe you have a whole bunch of kids. Maybe you’re just tired.

I totally get that.

But, for people like me, the zero-hour contract, employment law need-not-apply, brain melting 12 hour restaurant shift type people… books are important. You need that reminder that the world is bigger than the walls you work inside of.

So, those mornings in bed being a thing of the past, where do you read?

For me, most reading takes place on or waiting for public transport. I used to not like reading on the train, because I am very easily distracted/annoyed by other people’s conversation and not really into listening to music when I read. But, I realised, if I added up all the time I spend sitting on trains I would probably cry, so I may as well use that time doing something important.

To me, that something important is reading, obviously.

Despite my best efforts, I totally fail at not getting drawn into listening to/laughing at/being disgusted by large groups of football men/teenagers/suit wearing, Apple computer owning types. I had to get over the not listening to music thing. It turns out I can read to Lorde much better than I can middle aged men bitching about their wives.

Who knew.

Adulthood, I have learned, is a lot about choosing what’s important to you.

Right now, reading is important. When I pick up a book, I’m looking for something. I’ve recently realised that there are pieces of it scattered everywhere, through YA and through literary books. Fragments of it are hiding in poetry and essays.

I secretly feel like maybe if I read enough books, I’ll be able to gather those pieces into a coherent whole and then maybe I’ll know what to do next.

When I read, that’s what I’m making time for.

Maybe the question isn’t so much WHEN you make time for it as WHY.

When do YOU read, and why?

March Wrap-Up

I am disgusted by how fast 2017 is going. But then again, aren’t we all?

The other night I read this quote by Cheryl Strayed. She writes:

‘The useless days will add up to something.

The shitty waitressing jobs. The hours spent writing in your journal. The long, meandering walks. The days reading poetry and story collections and novels and dead people’s diaries and wondering about sex and God and whether you should shave under your arms or not. These things are your becoming.’

 

I really love Cheryl Strayed.

Reading-wise, it has been an odd month. I felt mostly lukewarm about the books I read, with one notable exception (Wires and Nerve, obviously). Here’s to a better reading month in April, I guess.

March wrap up

This month I reviewed:

Wires and Nerve – Marissa Meyer

Feelings: I didn’t realise how much I’d missed spending time with these characters until I had them back. Iko’s perspective is so fresh and interesting and her relentless optimism in the face of a shitty world is inspiring to read.

The Dark Days Pact – Alison Goodman

Feelings: The last 250 pages of this book were really, really good. The first 250, however, dragged and were largely unnecessary.

This Adventure Ends – Emma Mills

Feelings: This was a highly anticipated read of mine that turned out disappointing. It just didn’t match up to the originality and emotional authenticity of First & Then, in my opinion.

I also wrote about:

5 podcasts I’m loving right now

Top 4 villains of The Vampire Diaries

OTHER THAN BOOKS: Some recommendations you didn’t ask for

To Read: THIS New Yorker piece on Megan Phelps, a woman previously involved in the Westboro Baptist Church. She article details how, through conversations she had out Twitter, Phelps came to doubt the hateful beliefs she had been brought up with and eventually made the decision to leave the church, and her family behind. Her story is really beautiful.

To Watch: A wonderful conversation between Marie Forleo and Cheryl Strayed about life, grief, writing and dealing with all your childhood shit.

To Listen: Ayelet Waldman talking about microdosing herself with LSD to treat her depression.