Full disclosure: I am an acquaintance of the author. Also, I have admired her writing since she was a 20-something contributor to the Houston Press nearly half her life ago.
Disclaimer: Any book I give a 5-star rating has to literally knock my socks off. I'm sticking to my system, even though it may decrease this book's average (which, last I looked, was the highest of all my Goodreads books). As a 55-year-old male, I'm no expert on YA fiction, so I judged this book on more standard literary merits (admittedly, standards maintained by a mostly white middle-aged male literary establishment).
It isn't just because I know Jennifer Mathieu that I'm rooting for Moxie to become a nationwide phenomenon, or even bigger. I want the film adaptation to be a monster hit and spawn Moxie clubs in schools all over this nation. I want to see the next generation of girls brought up to feel empowered to demand respect, and boys taught to respect them as equals. I want to see young people of all genders willing and able to challenge and banish sexism where they find it, from their homes and neighborhoods to the Nation's Capital. STP, y'all—Smash The Patriarchy, the sooner the better.
What I love most about Moxie is the setting—or, more accurately, the way Jennifer portrays it. She has fully fleshed out her fictitious Gulf Coast shrimping town, capturing small-town Texas in the 2010s exquisitely.* Like hundreds of little towns and cities in Texas, it has all the technological advancements and fast food franchises of recent decades, but it remains ruled by attitudes that haven't graduated past the 1950s.
In East Rockport, high school football is king, and rape culture is rampant. The phrase "rape culture" never appears in the novel, but that is exactly what Jen depicts. (She does sprinkle in key feminist terms like "patriarchy.") To the atavistic males of East Rockport, including most of the high school boys, it's just...culture. Most of. There are some relatively woke male characters.
What I also love about Moxie is that not everything is presented in stark black & white. Jen respects her young target audience enough to present the world in all its glorious shades of gray. This gives her room to explore how even the best-intentioned feminists can overlook opportunities for intersectionality: When protagonist Vivian Carter's African American schoolmate Kiera reminds her that black students get the short end of a different stick, so black girls are doubly oppressed.
As a fan of character-driven fiction, I applaud the way Jen has constructed her young characters, as well as Vivian's mother and grandparents. They come with their own histories, and these histories determine whether or how enthusiastically they embrace the Moxie movement. That's not to say that Moxie is character-driven; it's quite clearly message-driven, although, to Jennifer's credit, I didn't feel bonked over the head with MESSAGE.
Quibbles? Yeah, I have a few, most of them minor. First, Vivian's bestie, Claudia: does she have a last name? All I could find is that she's a diminutive Latina.
I'd like to see Vivian explore more Riot Grrrl bands than just Bikini Kill (whose lead songwriter Kathleen Hanna granted rights to use her lyrics). As it is, young readers might get the impression that Bikini Kill was the only or official band of the whole movement. She makes a passing mention of Heavens to Betsy and Excuse 17, then leaves them by the side of the narrative. No L7, no Gits? Not even Sleater-Kinney, the highly successful band into which H2B and Excuse 17 evolved?
It seems as if, with one or two exceptions, Vivian and her friends are all only children. That's not a very small-town-Texas phenomenon. Yes, introducing siblings as minor characters often means introducing complications that distract from the plot. The first-person narrative rarely even mentions any brothers or sisters, older or younger. Lucy Hernandez mentions that her little brother sleeps in the living room of their abuelita's house, but he doesn't get any lines.
Lastly, while there's plenty to like in the primary characters, I'd like to see a little more differentiation in their speech and actions. The only teen whose speech patterns break from the template is Seth Acosta, a transplant from Austin and only child of two artists. Yes, teens may all have the same TV-homogenized speech habits and vocabulary, whether they live in shrimp-boat country or elsewhere; however, one can still detect subtle differences based on their individual histories, their ethnic backgrounds, and their social strata. I'd like to think that Vivian's mother (does she have a first name besides "Mom"?) would have at least remnants of her Riot Grrrl years in her dialog, but the lessons of that rebellious era of her life appear only toward the end.
Quibbles aside, You Go Ms. Mathieu!
* What I didn't say on Goodreads is that I hope she would say the same about my own depiction of small Texas towns in my two Texas-based novels.