Prince in Disguise by Stephanie Kate Strohm
All of her life, 16 year old Dylan Leigh has lived in the shadow of her reality TV star and beauty queen sister, Dusty, never quite measuring up to other’s expectations of her. So when Dylan is dragged to Scotland as part of Dusty’s wedding to Ronan, a Scottish laird, there’s nothing she wants to do more than disappear. Unfortunately, the always-on and always-close cameras documenting the weeks leading up to the wedding and the hawkish producer Pamela won’t let that happen as she keeps finding ways to cast Dylan in an unflattering light. But when Dylan meets the charmingly awkward groomsmen Jaime, she starts to feel as if she’s really being seen for the first time. She just wishes it wasn’t being filmed for reality TV.
In this high school version of The Bachelor meets Princess Diaries, with a touch of Bridget Jones’ Diary, readers are drawn into a story that features witty banter, charming characters, and some genuinely laugh-out-loud funny moments. The highly romanticized fairy tale setting of a Christmas-time, winter wonderland Scotland, replete with horse drawn carriages and snowy kisses, is no less than what you would expect of a Hyperion (Disney) book. Strohm even manages to throw the reader off by including twists that aren’t twists alongside twists that are (got that?), and even more impressively, finds ways to allow secondary characters to develop beyond their one-dimensional first impressions. This is a mostly clean read that is sure to provide feel good vibes to whomever picks it up.
Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu
After years of keeping her head down at school, the usually “dutiful” high school junior Vivian Carter can’t stay silent anymore about the rampant sexism occurring all around her: dress code violations are enforced on the girls while boys are able to wear lewd and tasteless t-shirts, teachers turn a blind eye to boys participating in the so-called game bump’n’grab, and funding for girls’ sports and education take a backseat to funding for the football team. Vivian doesn’t feel brave enough to speak out publicly – she doesn’t want to disappoint her family – but, drawing inspiration from her mom’s 90s feminist punk history, she decides to create an anonymous zine to give voice to her anger and frustration. What starts out as a small call to arms eventually turns into a movement, and Vivian discovers she had more moxie than she ever imagined.
This book touches on important topics and does so in a manner that is believable, inclusive, and praiseworthy. Besides including an unofficial soundtrack throughout the story and back matter that will lead readers to more resources on feminism, Mathieu peppers the entire book with moments that any aspiring feminist – either girl or boy – can appreciate. Not letting Seth get away with his subdued but ingrained misogyny was a true show of character for Vivian, no pun intended. Mathieu also includes LGBTQ characters and characters of color, but does so in ways that aren’t preachy or over the top. While it’s easy to wish she went more into the discrimination these characters face – she does touch upon it – in addition to the harassment they have to deal with, the reader knows this story isn’t about those issues per se, and so the characters are merely there, having the same awful experiences and fighting the same fight as everyone else. That is, in its own way, a refreshing change of pace.
And the winner is…
Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu
At first glance, these books seem vastly different in the stories they will tell when in fact, they have quite a bit in common. Though one looks saccharine and bright, and the other dark and edgy, both tell the stories of fatherless, physically commanding (tall), romantically stifled Southern girls who do their best to remain unseen until an outside event forces them to own their own worth. Both are given a shot at first kisses and first boyfriends while they try to navigate the choppy waters of learning to defy expectations (both their own and others’) in order to lead the life that’s meant for them.
Both stories lived up to the expected conventions of their respective genres (romance and realistic fiction) but in this hashtag-happy era of #WeNeedDiverseBooks, #MeToo, and #TimesUp, Moxie’s unapologetic feminism and inclusiveness of racial and sexual diversity puts it on top in the battle between tall Southern belles coming out of their shell.
Alea Perez has enthusiastically led the Youth Services department at the Westmont Public Library, located in the Chicago suburbs, since 2015. For 9 years, she has aimed to help children, teens, and their caregivers discover the joy and wonder of libraries in both IL and AZ and recently ended her term as Chair of YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens.