Posted in Historical Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Rebel Girls: YA turns back the clock

Rebel Girls, by Elizabeth Keenan, (Sept. 2019, Inkyard Press), $18.99, ISBN: 978-1-335-18500-6

Ages 12+

Taking place in the mid-1990s, Rebel Girls is about the riot grrl movement and the abortion debate. Athena Graves is a high school junior and a burgeoning riot grrl. Her younger sister, Helen, is a freshman who prefers Pearl Jam to Bikini Kill and is an aspiring model, while Athena dyes her hair red and eschews all things mainstream. The two sisters couldn’t be more different, but when a rumor makes the rounds at their Catholic high school that Helen had an abortion over the summer, Athena goes on the offensive. She knows that rumor came from Leah, an awful mean girl at school, and her cronie, Aimee. Leah can’t stand someone being as pretty and popular as she is; Helen poses a threat to her popularity. But Leah is dating Athena’s best friend, football player Sean. Pro-life Helen is devastated by the rumors, which get her removed from all extra-curricular activities – including the school’s pro-life club – and could get her expelled. As Athena tries to get to the bottom of the rumors and the bullying Helen endures at school, she starts dating new kid, Kyle, only to have Leah start flirting with him, too. Athena is going to have to lace up her Doc Martens and take on Leah and her mean girls, riot grrl style: which can be the toughest thing of all, because riot grrl culture encourages women to lift up other women, not put them down.

Rebel Girls presents a solid, realistic look at both sides of the abortion debate. Athena and her best friend, Melissa, are both riot grrls and pro-choice advocates, where Helen is firmly pro-life; in defending Helen, the two come up with a strategy that doesn’t preach, but does leave a lot of room for discussion. Riot Grrl culture is alive and well in this book, which resonates, because elements of that culture are experiencing a renaissance today: ‘zines, social causes, and the #MeToo culture have their roots in the ’90s and the riot grrl movement. Athena constantly checks herself through the book, reminding herself that even when things are difficult, she has to find a riot grrl way to handle things. That means not spreading vicious rumors about Leah or tearing her down to make Helen look or feel better. Athena and Melissa find ways to rebel against the faculty and student body persecution of Helen in a brilliant way that unites the school while still following (most of) the rules. As a Catholic schoolgirl from the late ’80s, Rebel Girls was like a trip back home. I loved the writing, the characters, and the smartly crafted story. The story touches on the ugly underneath the gloss in more ways than one, too: Melissa is half Vietnamese and half Cajun; Sean is African-American, and both characters experience racism in the book. It’s a small thread of a subplot, but a solid one to remind readers that the more things change, the more things stay the same. If you have readers who loved Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu, make sure to give them this one.

Rebel Girls has a starred review from Kirkus.


Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Momma, let your babies grow up to be feminists: A look at Jennifer Mathieu’s Moxie

Moxie, by Jennifer Mathieu, (Sept. 2017, Roaring Brook Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626726352

Recommended for readers 13+

This is one of the best books I will read this year. Vivian is a high schooler who is just DONE. She lives in a small Texan town that lets the football team run wild. They get away with chauvinist garbage all day long, from wearing explicit t-shirts, to telling girls to “make me a sandwich”, to groping in the hallways. The teachers – and the principal, whose son is the star player on the team – all dismiss the girls’ concerns. They have routine clothing checks to make sure the girls’ clothing doesn’t “tempt” the guys. This, my friends, happens every day in schools all over the U.S.

Vivian has had enough. The daughter of a 90’s Riot Grrl, she takes action by anonymously starting up a ‘zine called Moxie; initially, the ‘zine is her way of blowing off steam, but girls at school start responding. They answer Moxie’s call, whether it’s to identify one another by doodling stars on their hands, or showing up to protest dress code checks by wearing bathrobes and fuzzy slippers. Vivian isn’t the only one sick of the old guard. The girls’ soccer team has been wearing uniforms older than dirt, so Moxie Girls – as the girls name themselves – hold a bake sales and craft fairs to raise money for new uniforms. The girls at school unite thanks to Moxie, and before she realizes what’s happened, Vivian finds herself leading a movement from within.

I ADORE this book. It’s as empowering for women as it is for teens, who must read this book. I loved Viv’s mom as much as I did Viv, because I get that mom. She keeps her Riot Grrl stuff in a box labeled, “My Misspent Youth”; she’s working to pay the bills, relies on her parents probably a little more than she’d like, and she’s just damned tired. Riot Grrls don’t die; we’re still here, we just have a lot of stuff to do, man. But look to our kids. Viv may be the “good girl” at school, but once she’s fed up, she falls back on some solid third-wave feminism and makes a ‘zine while listening to Bikini Kill. It’s a call to action for every single person who picks up this book, and we’re not leaving the boys out this time: Viv’s boyfriend shows up for her, always supports her. But it’s Viv who is the strong character here, making him understand that the “not all guys” thinking is a cop-out, or even holding her relationship at arm’s length to figure things out.

Moxie is everything good and important about feminism and YA fiction, and if you haven’t added it to your TBR yet, you need to go do that right now. Go make a ‘zine while you wait; here’s a link to my meager Pinterest board so far. And if you can’t wait until Moxie hits shelves in a week, read an excerpt from feminist YA novel ‘Moxie’ from EW magazine.  Amy Poehler’s production company already has the film rights, so that should tell you volumes about the excitement behind this book.