Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu | Review

All year, I have been on the hunt for a really good YA book. I have to be honest, the search wasn’t going very well and I was beginning to give up on the genre entirely until I saw Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu pop up on my Goodreads feed. I am so glad I found this book towards the end of this year because it has really spurred me on to read more and, hopefully, smash that fifty book goal I set myself in January.

“Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with her high school teachers who think the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes, hallway harassment and gross comments from guys during class. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.”

For so long I have been on the hunt for a YA book about feminism that is actually about feminism and not just the very basic and oh so cheesy ‘girl power’ mantra (don’t get me wrong, that’s a good starting point but we can do so much better). I have finally found it in Moxie. When Vivian starts anonymously writing and distributing zines around her school to combat the constant sexism that is being allowed to go on, she has no idea the impact it will have. Soon, the Moxie zine turns into a full-scale revolution and begins to bridge the unspoken divides between cliques and breaks down the popularity structures amongst the girls at East Rockport High School.

Perhaps the best thing about this book is that it deals with intersectional feminism in a way that accessible to younger teens who may just be starting to learn about feminism. When one character expresses that the Moxie movement could do more to include people of colour, Vivian admits that, as a white girl, she was unaware of this issue and quickly does what she can to be more inclusive and ensure that all girls feel welcome. It would have been nice if Mathieu was more inclusive of disabled girls and LQBTQ+ girls (there were two gay characters but their scene was very short and it was never bought up again). It also would have been interesting if there was the inclusion or discussion of how these girls would treat a transgender character. However, I appreciate that, perhaps, Mathieu does not have experience of these issues and didn’t feel comfortable writing about them in the right way. I also understand the danger of tokenising characters. In the Notes from the Author section at the back of the book, Mathieu includes links to sites for girls who want to learn more and all of these sites are intersectional and welcome are girls.

One of my main issues with most of the YA books I’ve read is that the authors never seem to understand teenagers and so revert to stereotypes and cliches such as making the girls say ‘OMG’ and use the word ‘like’ in every single sentence. They’re boy obsessed and talk about make-up, there’s always a group of popular girls (who are hated by the main character because she’s ‘not like other girls’) who seem like exact copies of Regina George from Mean Girls. Moxie, however, had none of that. Mathieu has written a group of well rounded, flawed, yet likeable girl friends. They have the usual friendship dilemmas such as Viv’s lifelong best friend Claudia being jealous when she starts to befriend the new girl in her class. There is a popular girl but there are no judgemental comments because she’s a cheerleader and because she is popular amongst the jock boys. Even though she is only a side character, she gets her own story arc and development. None of the characters were perfect but they were realistic and I think that’s so important in YA fiction.

Vivian was not perfect and was frequently trying to learn more about how to be a better feminist. At the very beginning of the book, she stays quiet when a boy in her class shouts at another girl to go and make him a sandwich. It is the guilt of this event that makes Vivian realise she can do better and ultimately inspires her to start Moxie. I appreciated the inclusion of Vivian standing back because all of us, no matter how strongly we identify as feminists, have had moments when we haven’t spoken out or helped somebody because we were scared of how it would affect us. Whislt we should always strive to do better next time, everybody falls short some times and we shouldn’t be ashamed of it.

It wouldn’t be a YA book without a cute, if not ever so slightly cheesey love story. This one is no exception but whilst Vivian’s crush, Seth, is ever so dreamy and supports all her Moxie endeavours, he has his own internalised mysogyny. Vivian doesn’t ignore this or let it slide because it was just the one comment, she calls him out on his bullsh*t. It’s so refreshing to read a novel that doesn’t have girls who are souly concerned with finding boyfriends but also doesn’t shame girls who do have crushes and boyfriends.

Can you tell I really liked this book? There’s so much more I want to say but I don’t want to make this the longest blog post ever written, so, if you want to talk more, I would be more than happy to discuss and swap notes in the comments!

Remember: Moxie girls fight back!

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20 Things I’ve Learnt in 20 Years

A lot has happened in the few months I’ve been away. One of those things is the small matter of turning twenty! Honestly, a huge part of me is relieved to finally be saying goodbye to my teenage years, they have been interesting, to say the least! I’m one of these people that get very emotional and nostalgic around my birthday and this year was no exception. Inspired by Karlie Kloss’ YouTube video from a couple of years ago, I thought I would share with you 20 things that I have learnt over the past two decades.

1. Don’t Google symptoms – sometimes a headache is just a headache
2. 9/10 times, the thing you’re worried about won’t turn out to be half as bad as you think. You’ll feel silly for being as worried as you were!
3. Alone time is good, but don’t use your introversion as an excuse to isolate yourself
4. Carole King is INCREDIBLE
5. Mother’s are (almost) always right – the sooner you realise that, the easier life is. Just… don’t tell my Mum I said that – she’d never let it go
6. Sometimes the things that are the hardest to do, turn out to be the best decisions you could’ve made
7. Life is too short to pretend you don’t like Taylor Swift. Seriously, that woman has helped me in ways I will never be able to explain
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A very blurry picture of Taylor Swift killing it at Hyde Park, June 2015
8. Not everyone is going to like you and that’s ok. It doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you
9. You can’t grow as a person if you are always comfortable

10. First impressions are crap, give others – and yourself – a second chance

11. No one really knows what they’re doing – we’re all just trying our best

12. Everyone you ever meet will know something you don’t (I’m pretty sure Bill Nye said this so it must be true)

13. Global warming is real – I’m talking to you, Donald

14. Letting go of people who hurt you will always be painful, but it’s for the best

15. That detention you got at school when you were 12 is not the end of the world – one day you will laugh about the fact that you locked yourself in the bathroom and cried about it for an hour.

16. Always double check you have your keys on you before you leave the house

17. If your friends don’t let you get excited about things – they’re not your friends

18. Drink more water. Feeling tired? Water. Can’t focus? Water. Low or anxious? Water.

19. Sometimes, the things that are scaring you the most turn out to be the best things you could have done

20. You are stronger than you realise. You can do it.

I do love a good list! I’d better get started on my 21 things for next year!

The Power by Naomi Alderman | Review

After finishing my reread of The Handmaid’s Tale earlier this year, I was in the mood for lots of dystopian fiction. A friend recommended The Power to me, which had recently won the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. So, I picked it up knowing nothing about it other than the fact that it was highly recommended. I have to admit, I had high hopes for this book. After doing some research, almost every book review I found was singing The Power‘s praises.

In this novel, women across the world are discovering they have the ability to fire electrical charges through their fingertips. This ability causes widespread panic across the world as women are slowly gaining power over men.

What I found most difficult to grasp was any sense of time. There were many very modern references to news outlets such as Buzzfeed, suggesting that the events were taking place in the present, however, it is marketed as a dystopian fiction which meant I was expecting a story set in the future. There is also a suggestion that the events are taking place 5,000 years in the future… It isn’t a major issue but it did mean that I was distracted and withdrew from the plot a little as a result.

Many of the references; memes, Buzzfeed and Reddit did, at times, contextualise the story but I worry they will date the novel in years to come. In ten years time, these things will, most likely be history and so may alienate future readers. Alternatively, it may be interesting for them to read a book with such explicit references to our times.

The story was told from the many different perspectives. When it comes to this format, I find I have to read large chunks of the novel at a time in order to keep track of who is who. Unfortunately, because I’ve been so busy over the past few months, I wasn’t able to do this so I had to reread sections in order to refresh my memory. However, personal grievances aside, this was a really good way of telling the story as it gave us an insight into the different ways women all across the world were discovering and using their power.

The main premise of the story is, of course, that gender roles are reversing themselves with women becoming more powerful than men. Despite really enjoying the book, I did find the execution of this to be a little predictable at times.

I’m not sure this book quite lived to my expectations but, nevertheless, I did really enjoy it. I’ve had a lot of long train journeys over the past couple of months and they went a lot quicker with this book in my hands! I did accidentally leave my copy on the train after I’d finished it so if anyone found a copy on a Southern train, consider it my gift to you!

Have you read The Power? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!

 

Look Who’s Back…

Well hello there, long time no see.

The observant amongst you may have noticed the lack of new posts over the past couple of months. If you hadn’t noticed, don’t worry, neither had I until I stumbled on a word document full of blog ideas and realised it’s been four months since I last posted – oops!

I’m trying not to feel too guilty about neglecting this blog. After all, it is a just a hobby for me at the moment and the best bit about hobbies is that they come with absolutely no pressure or deadlines. My hiatus was unintentional. At first, I was away for a family wedding and completely forgot to schedule a post, then I had the very minor business of starting university and moving away from home, so I allowed myself a few weeks off so I could focus on settling in. Then, as it so often does my mental health decided to mix things up a little and before I knew it, four months and my first semester have flown by and now I’m at home for Christmas (Dad, if you’re reading this, it’s December, I can say the ‘C’ word now!).

 

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

 

Ah, University… that feels like another post for another time. For now, all I’ll say is that in some ways, my first semester was exactly as I had imagined it would be, and in others, it was nothing like I was expecting AT ALL. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it all if I’m honest. I cannot tell you how relieved I am to be home for Christmas – although I still have a few assignments to hand in so the pressure isn’t off just yet!

Now that I’m back home, I’m full of ideas for ways to kickstart this blog and with all this new found free time on my hands, I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of things. It may take me a little while to find my feet again but, bear with me, I’m excited about blogging again and I hope you’re excited about reading it!

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher | Review

Of all the celebrity deaths that occurred last year, one of the most heartbreaking for me was Carrie Fisher’s. The day before I heard of her passing I had ordered her new book ‘The Princess Diarist’* having recently rekindled my love for Star Wars. It’s taken me this long to pick up the book because I just haven’t felt ready to read such a personal book by someone who had recently passed away. After many recommendations from friends, I finally picked this book up…

As the title may suggest, the book is, largely, extracts from diaries Carrie Fisher kept whilst filming Star Wars. It is the very personal and direct insight into Carrie’s experiences that make this one of the most accurate descriptions of mental health I have ever read. One sentence was almost exactly the same as one I remember writing in one of my own diaries a few years ago! So many passages had me reaching for my trusty highlighter because they perfectly summarised the way I’ve felt but not known how to articulate. Being unaware of Carrie Fisher’s struggles with mental health, the emotions I experienced whilst reading this book came as a complete surprise to me, however, because I was able to connect so strongly to Carrie’s words, I can already tell this book will stay with me for a long time.

The timing of the release of this book and Carrie’s death gives the whole book a bitter sweet kind of feeling. It perfectly encapsulates the kind, funny, intelligent and badass woman she was but there is always the underlying sadness of knowing that she is no longer with us. At several points throughout the book, Carrie talks, often very casually, about death. One review I’ve heard said this gives the sense that she knew her time was coming and I have to agree. It’s as if Carrie wanted to say everything she had been holding on to, particularly about her affair with Harrison Ford, before she passed away and these stories were leaked and twisted into fabricated scandals.

Running through this book like a woven thread is Carrie’s trademark dark humour and scathing sarcasm. This, for me, is what brings this book to life. As a reader, you are constantly aware of whose words you are reading. Carrie’s character shines through these ink stained pages, not just in the sections taken straight from her diary but in the chapters in which she is reflecting on her life.

Have you read ‘The Princess Diarist’? Let me know what you thought in the comments!

August 2017

August is always a strange time for me. When I was at school it seemed to drag on, I’d count down the 31 days until it was time to start school, get my new books and timetable and start fresh. That underlying excitement that quietly simmered under everything I did kept me energised throughout the Summer holiday.  The past two years August has felt very different.

Last year, August symbolised the end of a very difficult time at college and the start of a gap year. A whole year to myself, to get a job and earn money, write a book, meet up with friends and prepare myself for the move to university in a year’s time. It was a month of relief and hope – two of my favourite human emotions. Yes, there was a little anxiety at the thought of not knowing where the year would take me, but after two years of feeling sick at the thought of college and having to ‘just get on with it’ every day, this new, more distant anxiety was much more manageable.

Cut to: One year later. Tomorrow is the last day of August and in nineteen days, I’ll be moving out of the house I have lived in with my Mum since I was four and into my university accommodation with people, I do not know and have never met before. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t wait to get out of my town, it is far too small to hold me anymore but there’s still something holding me back, mainly fear. I can not wait to start studying again, my inner nerd is jumping for joy at the mere thought of writing essays and going to lectures. I’ve missed being excited about school. However, that excitement is currently being outweighed by the hundreds of ‘What ifs?’ that are running through my mind at a mile a minute, every second of the day. What if nobody likes me? What if the university isn’t the right one for me? What if I don’t get on with my roommates? What if I fall behind on my course? What if I end up dropping out? These questions are the first thing I think about each morning and the last thing every night. They just won’t let up. Deep down I know the only way to answer all these is to just do it but, as I’m writing this, something, in the back of my mind is resisting and I am scared that voice will win and after a year of psyching myself up to leave, I will give it all up at the last minute.

This was supposed to be a little summary of my month but it suddenly got very personal, although, it wouldn’t be an honest summary if I hadn’t because it seems as though university as been literally all I’ve thought about. This time next month, I will be living in a new city with new people and some of my ‘What ifs?’ may or may not have happened, I’ll be back in a month to let you know my answers to those questions.

All Kinds of Wonderful – Beautiful: The Carole King Musical | Theatre Review

Apart from books, the great love of my life is theatre. I have secret dreams of one day performing at Shakespeare’s Globe. As I’m painfully aware, that’s one of those dreams that is very unlikely to ever come true so, in the meantime, I’m sticking to going to the theatre as much as I can (or at least as much as my bank account will allow).

Back in March 2016, I went with my Mum to see ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’ at London’s Aldwych theatre. My Mum has been a fan of Carole King’s for as long as I can remember and it’s definitely a love that has been inherited by me. That day came in the middle of a very difficult and stressful time and it has always stuck in my mind as being one of my happiest days in a very long time.

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A few months ago, whilst mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, I saw that ‘Beautiful’ was going on tour and would, therefore, be ending its run in London. Mum and I had loved the show so much the first time that we were desperate to see it one last time before it closed. We were lucky enough to get tickets for the matinee performance on 5th August. The penultimate performance. Waiting in our seats for the show to start, we both said we had a pretty good memory, but, Mum and I were both surprised by how much we had forgotten. I had forgotten how funny the show was!

Waiting in our seats for the show to start, we both said we had a pretty good memory, but, Mum and I were both surprised by how much we had forgotten. I had forgotten how funny the show was! I’ve seen criticisms of the show, saying that it isn’t very dramatic, that audiences would be left wanting more detail about Carole King’s later life, her other marriages and the further success of her career. To me, this was precisely what I loved about it. Besides Carole tumultuous marriage to her high school boyfriend, there is no over the top drama. It’s the story of a young girl trying to pursue a career in the music industry whilst raising her children.

Cassidy Janson, who played Carole King in both performances that I saw, captured how shy Carole is but with a quiet confidence about her. In one of the most moving scenes of the show, she confronts her husband saying, “The girls deserve better… and so do I”, every woman in the audience applauded. As an audience member, you feel very protective of her, there was a real sense of wanting to see this young woman achieve everything she had been working so hard for. When Carole plays the first few notes of ‘Beautiful’ on the piano, stops and says “I can’t believe I’m performing at Carnegie Hall!” the only way to describe how I felt was proud.

An image that will always stay with me when I think about ‘Beautiful’ is the look on Cassidy Janson’s face during her curtain call. She looked like she had tears in her eyes. Maybe it was because she knew there was only one more show left, maybe it was the standing ovation she, and the rest of the cast were receiving. It reminded me how much theatre, acting and performance means to me and so many others. I left feeling inspired by the talent, passion and life of Carole King and every member of the cast. It was all kinds of wonderful!