Book Review – Moxie, Jennifer Mathieu

I’ve had the good luck lately to come across a few “one-seat” reads, something I hadn’t experienced in years. Moxie was one of these, and I’m so glad I finally got around to picking it up. I’d actually checked it out weeks ago, and it had been languishing on my desk at work since. After slogging through That Inevitable Victorian Thing (which dragged on to a relatively satisfying ending, I guess) I was ready for something different. I hadn’t planned to start Moxie, even then. But I left the Rick Riordan book I’d meant to read next at home, and well, Moxie was just sitting right there, wasn’t it? So I cracked it open before my desk shift and gave it a go.

Bad librarian confession: sometimes, I read on the front desk. Usually this isn’t an issue. I can be aware of what’s going around me even while I’m reading, I tell myself. But that wasn’t really the case with Moxie. It was such a strong, engrossing read that I found myself pretty much dead to the world in the couple hours it took me to race through it.

There have been some pretty great feminist reads recently, like The Female of the Species, another book I blew through not too long ago. But Moxie definitely stands out. If I could make one complaint about the book, it’s that its feminism is just too ideal, too perfect. It lacks the faults that modern day feminism has in the form of diversity and inclusion. In Mathieu’s novel, it’s perfectly intersectional. White girls, girls of color, straight girls, queer girls, good girls, bad girls, all of them rally under the banner of Moxie. Trans representation was the only thing lacking, but perhaps understandably so given the book’s small-town Texas setting.

Mathieu’s protagonist Viv is fantastic. She’s a believable teenage girl who mostly prefers to fly under the radar, but is much like any other kid. She has her friends, goes to football games, crushes on guys, so on and so forth. She’s motivated to start the titular zine by the gross sexism in her school and hometown, and in part by a shoebox full of reminders of her mother’s rebellious days. She’s not looking to change the world – she’s just frustrated and angry, a feeling most women are probably well familiar with. Who hasn’t been subjected to bullshit dress codes, been told that “boys will be boys” when something shitty happens? I can remember being in high school and helping a classmate staple her skirt’s hemline back up after admins tore it out for being “too short” when really, she was just damn tall. Sometimes it’s easy to overlook these little microaggressions. Sometimes you need to do something about it.

There’s no stone left unturned. Even the issue of well-meaning male allies is addressed in a satisfying manner. I was a little worried about what to expect from the ending – unfortunately, even movements that start with the best intentions unravel thanks to bullshit red tape and the workings of the machine. Without spoiling too much, I can say that Moxie wrapped up on a positive note. It even made me cry a little. Luckily there weren’t any small children around to be alarmed.

If you’re ready to be angry and excited and thrilled all in short succession, I definitely recommend Moxie. If you’re looking for something to give a girl for the holidays, I recommend Moxie. If you’re looking for something to give a boy for the holidays, I recommend Moxie. Moxie for everyone, all day, every day! You won’t regret it.

Up and Coming

Two posts in one day? No way!

I’m dusting off this blog because I’ve got a lot going on these days, most of it very exciting.

On October 28th I’ll be a panelist on podcasting at the Louisiana State Book Festival from 3-3:45 PM. I’ll also be hosting the Urban Legend trivia at 10:30 AM! Louisiana will always have a very special place in my heart – it’s where I spent some of the most important years of my life, and some of my best friends still live there. As a former Louisiana State Library employee, I’m so honored to be back at Book Fest as a guest!

I’ll be attending the Texas Book Festival November 4th-5th. I won’t be hosting any panels, just attending as a lowly plebe, but I’m insanely excited to get to see some great authors! I’m hoping to get a few books signed and crossing my fingers I don’t pass out from the sheer awesomeness.

I’m also excited to announce that I’ve got a new podcasting project on the horizon! While I’ll still be voicing Morning Wood on The Alexandria Archives, I’ll also be hosting a podcast on youth services in the library with the amazing Skye of The Spork Review. I’m so, so excited about getting this show off the ground. We’ll be discussing programs and services for kids and teens at the library, as well as featuring the occasional author interview! The show won’t premiere until mid or late November, but we’ve already gotten the ball rolling and will be announcing the title soon. If librarianship floats your boat, keep an eye on this blog for more information!

Can you die from too much librarianing?

Ah, the age-old question that has long plagued my profession. If the answer is “yes,” I haven’t learned it yet. I’m hanging in there. Back in May I moved out of my old place to a new city about a couple hours away. I wish I could say I’ve gotten unpacked and suitably settled, but that would be a lie. I’m still surrounded by boxes and potato chip crumbs. Someday, I tell myself, I’ll get it together. But that day is not today. And it’s probably not tomorrow, either.

I had this idea in my head that a change of scenery would get me out of the rut I was in. And for the most part, it has. I can’t afford to spend too much time down in the dumps because frankly, I’m just too busy to wallow in my own self-loathing. The Alexandria Archives and my writing have gone largely neglected as I struggle to adjust to a new lifestyle that’s pretty different from my old one. Well, not entirely different – I still spend my free time vegetating in front of the TV, but exhaustion is largely to blame. Lately I’ve been marathoning the new MST3K, which has been a fun watch. And I’ve picked cross stitch back up, so I’m not being totally unproductive. But there’s definitely a sense of “grass was greener.”

I like my  new job. I like it a lot, actually, despite horrific papercuts, screaming children, and collapsing boxes. But there’s still that fear of ending up back in a rut where I’m not making any progress professionally or personally, like I’m just existing to take up space. So I’m trying to take initiative to change things. Tonight, I’ll begin recording my audio for episode 16 of the Archives. Tomorrow, I’ll go to a writers’ meetup and maybe spend some time with a new friend. And I’m going to finish that damn cross stitch. If life’s what you make of it, I’m going to make sure mine involves some dainty embroidered flowers.


Another day, another daily prompt!

“I’m with the Banned”

As a librarian, I see all kinds of trendy marketing slogans crop up around the idea of banned books. This year, my library’s display for Banned Books week featured a mock pyre of comic books and YA lit, a selection of challenged reads hidden under paper lunch bags, and a book cart loaded down with illicit material literally begging to be checked out. By the end of the celebrations, the cart was cleared out.

Funnily enough, despite 13 years of religious schooling, I never had anyone attempt to censor my reading material. My father bought me the Dark Materials trilogy when I was in middle school, and my Catholic high school assigned A Clockwork Orange, Fahrenheit 451, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, etc. I think their approach was largely pragmatic – kids are going to be exposed to this stuff anyway, the last we can do is prepare them for it. Also, looking back on it now, we had some bomb faculty. I mean, some of these people should’ve been teaching doctoral programs. Immigrants, many of them, they instead found themselves dealing with a bunch of fresh-faced little cretins who had no idea what it was to sacrifice everything they had in the desperate hope of freedom. Freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom to live.

My parents are Cuban immigrants. I was raised in the expat community in South Florida, where people left the island to live down the street from families they’d lived down the street from all their lives. Others still were parted from relatives they would never see again. Experiences varied wildly from one household to the next. While my clan escaped largely intact, my childhood music teacher would bear the scars left by torture for the rest of her life. They made her watch as her first husband was executed by firing squad.

My father was something of a smartass. At 13 he was the kind of kid who might have benefited from reverse psychology – if he was told not to do something, he did it immediately, and with great enthusiasm. This applied to reading banned books. The following story is something of a family legend, told and retold over the years until it attained a life of its own. Probably some of it is a little untrue. We’re Cuban, after all – we embellish, elaborate, entertain. At 13, my father entered a bookstore and asked for a banned book. The title is irrelevant. In this case, no one remembers it. What ensued was un griteria, a confused conflagration of sound and activity in which apparently the bookseller attempted to detain my father, who put up a fuss, luring in a crowd. Should the police be summoned, to arrest a dumb kid? Did he really want to summon the police, a man in the crowd asked, or were the bookseller’s intentions more sinister? Lucky for my father that a family friend was present, and silver-tongued enough to convince the crowd that the man was some kind of deviant. The crowd turned on him, and in the confusion my father escaped. In the aftermath, it would occur to my beloved grandmother that Miami was nice that time of year.

I like to tell people that I would not exist if it weren’t for a banned book. It’s a great disappointment to me that I’ll never know what the book was. Now I’m a librarian. It’s my job to fight censorship, and to object to the restriction of free and ready access of information – while respecting copyright, of course. I write, I read, I donate to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. My existence is something of an irony.

Some weeks ago, I saw one of the most beautiful photographs I’d ever laid eyes on. Featured in an article on Banned Books week, it was taken by Valentietokyo on dA and I saved it to share with my tattoo artist when I went in for my last piece.  In the photo, a book rests open in someone’s hand. The book is on fire, vibrant flames and dark ash spiraling up into the sky as smoke swirls around them. We’ll be starting on the piece in December or January depending on how things work out, and I couldn’t  be more excited. For me, that picture was about more than censorship – while the photographer’s intentions were a little hazy, the response to the image testified to what I’ve always  believed: you can’t ban an idea, even if you try to destroy it.

Someone will always be with the Banned.