* Pub. Date: June 2008
* ISBN-13: 9780385523592
*Genre: Autobiographical fiction
I chose Mexican High by Liza Monroy for the "Read Your Way Around The World Challenge" hosted by Global Voices Online because ig would be my first book set in Mexico City. Also, with Obama just having returned from a visit to Mexico I thought it it might be quite a topical read. If you're taking part in the challenge, please don't forget to tag your post with #gvbook09
It's never fun for a kid to have to change schools and it has to be downright frightening for the kid who happens to be a High School senior who is not only called upon to change schools but to live and study in a different country.
Milago Marquez (who, embarrassed by her unusual name, insists on being called Mila) is the only child of a US foreign service worker transferred to Mexico in Milago's final year of High School. As most highly paid expats are wont to do, Mila's mother enrolls her in a fancy International school that caters to American expats and the kids of the Mexican elite.
The school is mostly divided into two groups of kids....US and international students(many from diplomatic families) and the kids of the Mexican elite (government officials,gangsters and businessmen) aka as "fresas". Fresas are rich, designer-clothes wearing, spoiled kids...highly nationalistic,they will only speak Spanish and they look down on anyone who is not rich like them, especially gringos (foreigners, mostly American) It doesn't take long for Mila to figure out that with her normal US upbringing she sticks out like a sore thumb and that in order to become an insider she would have do what the rest of the kids are doing which included getting high, cutting classes,having sex and drinking hard alcohol. So acceptable is it for Mexican teenagers to engage in alcohol-fueled social events that even at their school-council organized "lunch" parties every Friday after school (Cocteles), Bacardi along with other alcohol was the main staple..there was little or no food served.
I had a rather hard time deciphering which year this book was set in. The author mentions "Nirvana" and the grunge look being the craze of that year and from what I remember Nirvana was formed in the early 1990's so I am going to presume that this is when the story was set.
Initially the book did hold me captive...I was appalled and aghast to learn what these kids (most of them as young as 17) did to themselves, and as the mother of two teenage girls I felt compelled to read on. Also, I did enjoy her glimpses into Mexican culture, however, as more and more absurd subplots entered the story, I started to grow tired of our protagonist, her friends and their antics and I literally just thumbed through the last 70 pages of the book.
What you will take away from the book:
b)A visual image of the environs of Mexico City like "Angahuan" a town destroyed by the volcano Paricutin which erupted in 1944 and where people ride horses instead of cars and speak the local Purépecha tongue instead of Spanish; "Villahermosa", a paradise for anthropologists with its remarkable Olmec ruins, the Chiapas one of Mexico's poorest towns with a large population of agrarian Mayans and a trip Real de Catorce, a rural desert town where Huichol Indians go looking for peyote in the surrounding hills to sell to tourists wanting to undertake a mystical peyote pilgrimage,
c)Mexican food (Monroy got me hooked on "Cafe de Olla" (coffee made in earthernpots with cinnamon, brown sugar and clove), "Sincronizadas" ( ham and cheese quesadillas);
d) A keener understanding of the role of a foreign service worker and e) a fond regard for teenagers in North America, who despite their foibles, seem so much more grounded and focused than Mexican teenagers.
Well, like Mila, Liza Monroy is also the daughter of a US foreign service and spent her last few years of High School in Mexico City. According to the author, many of the characters(and the incidents they got embroiled in) are based on people she knew in High School. Since these characters were based on real people I expected them to feel authentic and inspired, instead, many of Monroy's characters feel empty and souless. I was hoping Monroy would use Mila to give us an insider's view of Mexico City, and I suppose she did, but it's a dark view of a tumultuous city through the eyes a rather conflicted, sometimes-stoned 17-year old girl, so I am not sure I can set much store by it.
A warning: While it is set in high school, "Mexican High" is definitely NOT recommended for any reader under 19.
CAFE DE OLLA (MEXICAN SPICED COFFEE)
Categories: Mexican, Beverages
Yield: 6 servings
3/4 c Brown sugar, firmly packed
3 x Cinnamon sticks
6 x Cloves
6 tb Coffee (NOT instant)
6 x Julienne slices orange zest
In a large saucepan, heat 6 cups of water with the brown sugar, cinnamon
sticks, and cloves over moderately high heat until the mixture is hot, but
do not let it boil. Add the coffee, bring the mixture to a boil, and boil
it, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes. Strain the coffee through a
fine sieve and serve in coffee cups with the orange zest.