Review- The Red Word

The Red Word by Sarah Henstra

Processed with VSCO with t1 presetGenre: Fiction
Format: Paperback
Publication date: March 13, 2018
Publisher: Grove Press, Black Cat
Page count: 352
Star rating: 4/5

Karen, newly out of the dorms, just moved into a house with new roommates. The three women refer to their home as ‘Raghurst’ and identify as feminists with particularly strong views. Karen attends the marches and vigils held by the women’s center on campus, but she is a bit different from the girls she lives with. Karen begins dating Mike, a boy who is part of a fraternity on campus, GBC. Her loyalty then gets split between her roommates, who hate fraternities with all their being, and Mike, who loves his house and brothers. Following this, sexual assault cases against frat members, specifically GBC, begin arising. Raghurst becomes loud with conversations about rape culture on campus with even more vigor than before. Suddenly, the women’s center and school paper are working on pieces about sexual harassment and mentioning GBC. Karen knows rape is not the victim’s fault and that Mike’s fraternity brothers see women as pieces of meat, but she also recognizes her boyfriend clearly respects her body. Rape culture is a huge problem in colleges and Karen wants to be on the right side of history.

Thank you to Grove Press for sending me an advance copy of this title! I’m grateful I was able to get my hands on it before it was released to the public.

The biggest takeaway from The Red Word is it truly makes the reader think. Consider this: consent is not always black and white. For example, if someone manipulates a person into saying yes, it is not consenting. If someone blackmails a person into saying yes, it is not consenting. If someone is too drunk to know what they are saying yes to, it is not consenting. A reader may already know all of this, but The Red Word highlights the many ways in which rape in not black and white. This is something admirable, because such a topic is not easy to portray. Sarah Henstra did it well.

Karen’s roommates are a very interesting crew of women. Their views are pretty radical and they firmly stand by what they believe. One of them, Dyann, sometimes does not care if an individual suffers (by her own doing) if it means a system of people benefit. The other women do not quite agree with this logic and it creates a tension in their household and activism. Mike, too, is a unique character. He believes his frat brothers are good people, no matter what the university newspaper has to say. That being said, he does not like when Karen roams around the house alone at night. He seems to be nervous his brothers might harass or assault her while intoxicated. The Red Word is full of tension—tension within oneself, with one’s friends, with one’s community, etc. Despite that, this book was never uncomfortable.

The references to Greek history and ancient Greek and Roman texts are really cool. Karen is registered in a class that discusses women in Greek mythology and texts, so the novel incorporates some writing techniques like calling to a muse. For any nerd who loves The Odyssey, the opening lines, “Sing. O Goddess…”, will make you very excited. Sarah Henstra truly knows a lot about feminism in ancient writing.

Any feminist or person looking to learn more about rape culture will enjoy this book. Anyone who is both of these things AND likes Greek history will extra enjoy it. Karen has a few shocking college experiences that, unfortunately, are not uncommon. Rape culture is a horrible issue on college campuses right now, especially in Greek life. Fraternities are very much protected by their universities. The Red Word explores the ways in which consent is not completely black and white and how fighting against the system is both complicated and slippery.


Review- Moxie

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

IMG_7575Genre: Young adult fiction
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: September 19, 2017
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Page count: 336
Star rating: 5/5

Vivian is tired of the sexism she sees in her fellow classmates and her high school’s administration. Boys are constantly telling girls to ‘make them a sandwich’ or wearing shirts with misogynistic slogans. Even worse, the principal feeds into this rhetoric by doing random dress code checks, which don’t have any set rules, so girls are forced to change for arbitrary reasons that teachers decide on the spot. Vivian decides to follow in her feminist mother’s footsteps and create a zine, called Moxie, to secretly put in the girls bathrooms. Vivian is scared, as she could get suspended if she’s caught, but it’s kind of empowering at the same time. Who knows what the reaction will be from the girls at her school. Maybe, despite the fact that a group of sexist football players rule her school, Vivian can turn Moxie into something great.

It’s like I’m living in a feminist fantasy…But it can’t be a complete fantasy because Roxane Gay isn’t here.”

I loved Moxie, especially how all of the examples of sexist behavior in Vivian’s school are very real and happen all the time in the US today. I actually had to put the book down a few times because it got too real for me. I could completely put myself in Vivian’s shoes and feel how frustrated and small she felt because of the actions of her principal and his football star son. It’s a horrible feeling to not have your ideas, your opinions, your gender heard or appreciated and be unable to do anything about it. I commend all the girls at Vivian’s school for staying determined in an environment that doesn’t appreciate them.

I also want to highlight a subject that I believe is so important for books about feminism to include. As many girls know, it’s common for ‘good’ guys to say, “not all men do…” and “not all men are like …” and it feels almost dismissive. Jennifer Mathieu really hit the nail on the head the way she explained the problems with statements like these.

“I know all guys aren’t dicks…I get it. But the thing is, when there are so many dickish dudes around you, it gets hard to remember that, you know?”…”And you telling me not all guys are like that doesn’t really help me feel better. Because some guys are like that. A lot of them, actually.”

It was awesome to read about a girl telling a guy, whom she likes a lot, why it’s wrong to use “not all men” statements. At first, I wasn’t sure if Vivian was going to address them when her love interest said these things, but I was pleasantly surprised when she spoke up.

I enjoyed Moxie very much. I think it’s an excellent book to keep in a library accessible to young adults. This title is empowering and educational for females, especially. I’m excited to share Moxie with all the young adults I know who are looking for a great book on feminism and fighting misogyny in general. Thanks for writing such a great read, Jennifer Mathieu!