Let’s talk about the “F-word.” Feminism, that is! Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu is a fantastic YA novel about girl power and women’s rights. In this post, I hope to help you determine if Moxie deserves a place on your classroom library shelves or not.
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What Is Moxie About?
Moxie follows the protagonist Vivan, a girl who has lived in a small town in Texas her whole life. The football team (and their admin fathers) run the school. No one does anything when they make sexist jokes or act inappropriately around the girls. Boys will be boys, after all.
After a particularly bad day of enduring sexism, Vivian looks to her mother’s Riot Grrrl past for comfort. The feminist’s zines of her mother’s past inspire Vivan. Before she realizes what she’s doing, Vivis is creating and copying a ‘zine of her own.
After anonymously distributing her zines throughout the girls’ bathrooms at schools, Vivian is surprised to realize that she didn’t just blow off some steam. She started a movement.
Is Moxie Classroom-Friendly?
Personally, I found Moxie a lot more “classroom-friendly” than many other young adult novels my students have enjoyed. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect for conservative schools or parents, however.
Moxie does contain some swearing.
There are also a few scenes that include sexual harassment. While not overly graphic or violent, these could be uncomfortable for some parents (and triggering for some students). Mathieu takes the story just far enough to get across the importance of the issue, without making anything gratuitous.
Why Does Moxie Deserve to Be in My Classroom Library?
We teachers have a lot to cover. In addition to the basics of reading and writing skills, we’ve become the go-to experts lately on equality, inequities, and making sure our students have both open minds and hearts. It’s a lot.
I really appreciated Mathieu’s discussion of the word “feminism” in her novel. While some characters adopt the “feminist” identify readily, others are more hesitant. Mathieu gracefully explains the true meaning of feminism while separating it from its stereotypes.
Another reason I think Moxie is valuable is because it shows the role of the ally. A lot of men instantly become defensive when women’s rights are brought up. Mathieu, throughout the novel, is able to convey that “yes, not all men,” while proving that “enough men” and that male allies have a role to play in a feminist movement.
She is also able to show that allies are not perfect. They might not say the right thing all the time, or completely understand what it’s like to be the victim of inequality, but the good ones keep trying.
Lastly, Moxie acknowledges that large groups of women have historically been left behind in previous feminist movements. Mathieu touches on the intersectionality of race and gender issues beautifully through her characters’ interactions and Vivian’s reflections.
What Students will Grab Moxie From the Classroom Library?
Moxie’s intended audience is clearly young women. The protagonist, her friends, and most of the major characters are female. While there will certainly be some young men in your classroom who enjoy the novel, the book will certainly find more ground with young ladies.
That said, I think it’s a powerful read for all young women if only to understand more about feminism, its true meaning, and why some withdraw from that word.
Being a novel about teenage girls, this novel might resonate more with shyer girls who are still finding themselves in high school. The protagonist herself is not brazen or overconfident; most of her actions toward change are done anonymously.
Moxie does a great job of empowering young women, without forcing them to be something that they are not. (If you’re looking for a great example of what happens when young women do not work together, check out the dystopia The Grace Year!)
How Can I Use This Book in My Classroom?
Moxie could certainly be a whole class novel, although you may have to work a little harder to earn buy-in from the boys in your room. I would love to see this novel taught in an all-girls’ school or to a class that just happened to be mostly women.
I think Moxie could also be a valuable independent read for girls’ groups that you might have on campus or in leadership classes.
If you do any literature circles on social justice issues, around the young adult genre, or gender studies, this would be an excellent addition! Moxie would especially make a great addition to any social justice unit because the characters’ actions are so accessible. (If you do want to do a social justice literature circle, I have a done-for-you unit right here!)
Since its publication, Moxie has also become a Netflix movie directed by Amy Poehler! Depending on your school’s movie policies, this could be a great tool for using the novel in the classroom as well.
A Final Word on Adding Moxie to Your Classroom Library
Whether you’re looking to add Moxie to your classroom library, literature circle, or curriculum, it’s a powerful novel choice.
My students always respond to injustice, and I think your students will too. Depending on where you teach and the culture of your school, this novel may hit very close to home for some of your students.
But, the greatness of Moxie is that it shows that change can begin with small actions. It is by banding together that change becomes lasting. Moxie is informative, exploratory, and inspiring. There is certain to be a young woman in your room who Moxie would inspire.