My Feminist Winter, Part 3

Expectations can be scary things. Feminism. Small town Texas. An author I already admired. So, yes, my expectations were super high for Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu. I was excited enough to buy the hardback as soon as I saw it. But then it set on my shelf for several weeks. Would it measure up?

I was first introduced to Mathieu’s work through volunteering at the North Texas Teen Book Festival. I moderated a panel on “stand alone” books and read Devoted to prepare for my session. To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to reading it: teenager escapes super-conservative, Christian, homeschooling family and sets out on her own? Definitely not at the top of things I wanted to read. But I loved it. From my goodreads review:  “Mathieu treats the Quiverfull movement with respect and really explores the complications of faith, breaking free from family, and growing up. Loved that it wasn’t tied up into a neat package–want to know more about Rachel, but also deeply satisfied with the ending. That’s a tricky line to walk.”

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“One Story at a Time” Me with Adi Alsaid, Marisa Reichardt, Jennifer Mathieu, Maurene Goo, Ally Condie and Julie Buxbaum

While chatting with Jennifer at the festival, she mentioned her next book–girl gets tired of football team running the school (and behaving horribly) and fights back through an underground ‘zine. Umm, yes please! And then I started to wait very, very patiently. Early reviews were good. Lots of people mentioned the best dedication ever:

For all the teenage women fighting the good fight.

And for my twelfth-grade Current Topics teacher for calling me a feminazi in front of the entire class. You insulted me, but you also sparked my interest in feminism, so really,  the joke is on you. Revenge is best served cold, you jerk.

With an opening like that, somehow you just know this book won’t pull any punches. There was no wishy-washy feminism in the pages ahead.

In many ways, Moxie is an book of awakenings. Viv isn’t really a feminist when things get started. But she’s becoming increasingly annoyed at the many sexist traditions in her high school. And then she discovers her mom’s “My Misspent Youth” box, full of mementos from her mom’s Riot Grrrl years. Something snaps, and the book takes off.

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Though Viv’s mom and I are basically the same age (always alarming when you discover you’re the same age as the mother in a YA novel), I didn’t really do the Riot Grrrrl thing. In high school, my musical tastes were very main stream and my politics not so liberal. It never would have crossed my mind to do anything that Viv does. I believed in strong women, but never really thought about feminism, per se. But as an adult who’s tired of fighting the patriarchy, I want to hand this to every young, engaged woman I know so that maybe she’ll find the courage to get involved sooner.

This is certainly a book needed for these tumultuous times. However, I do believe it has staying power. There’s a great cast of characters, and it all just feels real. As someone who had way too much of my high school schedule dictated by football games (I was in marching band), it was so gratifying to see a Texas football team get taken down. And these are just a few of the many, many things I loved.

By the end, I was sobbing.   There’s been real growth and change in so many characters. New friendships are forged. Where I actually lost it was the walkout scene at the end–a walkout where no one is sure that anyone else will be walking.

We keep marching, our feet trampling over Principal Wilson’ threats and our teachers’ warnings. We are marching because those words deserve to be run over. Steamrolled. Flattened to dust. We are marching in our Converse and our candy-colored flip-flops and our kitten heels, too. Our legs are moving, our arms are swinging, our mouths are set in lines so straight and sharp you could cut yourself on them.

Maybe we hope you do.

I wish I had a book like this when I was younger.

 

A Texas Twist

A gazillion years ago, I spent most of a semester reading the Dear America books.  Officially, it was for a grad school paper, but I was also kinda curious.  (I’ve now just spent 10 minutes looking for said paper, because I’m totally the kind of person to keep such things.  But I can’t find it anywhere.  And as it was at least 3 computers ago, I definitely don’t have a digital version.)  In the early 2000s, these books had just burst on the scene and were lauded as some magical device to get kids to like history.  After all, once you read the one about the Titanic, why wouldn’t you immediately go read about the Carlisle Indian School?

There are, of course, two flaws in this particular system.  One is that only true history nerds are going to read all of them, and most kids will probably pick and choose, based on the time periods they’re interested in.  The second is that all of them are written by different people, and some of them are a lot better than others.  What if a kid gets bogged down in one with a terrible plot, even though it’s good history?  Again, totally wishing I could find that paper so then I could quote some of the clever observations I made 10+ years ago.  (see, this obsession with kidlit history is long-standing!)

Get Along, Little Dogies: The Chisholm Trail Diary of Hallie Lou WellsAt any rate, I was reminded of that long ago paper a few weeks ago, when I finally read the first volume of the Lone Star Journals, Get Along, Little Dogies: The Chisholm Trail Diary of Hallie Lou Wells.  Unlike the Dear America series, these are all written by the same author, Lisa Waller Rogers.  But they’re definitely in a similar mold–a fictional diary with some additional background information at the end.  There are two others in the series–one about the Runaway Scrape after the fall of the Alamo and one about the Galveston Hurricane.  And, of course, even more importantly, they’re about my home state of Texas.

As you might suspect, Get Along, Little Dogies is about a girl who gets to go on a cattle drive.  She’s an accomplished horsewoman, kinda annoyed that she’s a girl, and eager for the adventure.  Along the way, they run into outlaws, Indians, and all the other things you might expect to happen in such a book.  It’s a good, quick read, and the supplemental information includes background on the Chisholm Trail, women on cattle drives (including one of my favorite Texas women, Lizzie Johnson Williams), and lots of photos.  My only quibble with this book is that Hallie found serious romance on the trail–and she’s only 14!  If I was a kid reading that, I would be horrified.  Heck, I’m a little concerned now.  I know girls certainly married that young, but I don’t think it happened as often as we assume.

These types of books will never be my favorite way of introducing history to kids, since so often they focus on historical objectives rather than a good story.  But it is refreshing to see a series for children featuring uniquely Texas stories.  I hope Rogers continues writing them–would love to see something on the oil boom at the turn of the century.  Now, there’s a rip-roaring tale!