Foreign Exposure: The Social Climber Abroadby Lauren Mechling, Laura Moser
After two glorious (though somewhat hectic) semesters with her dad in New York City, Mimi must make good on her promise to her parents: summer break with her mom. But it seems going back to her cozy old life in Houston isn’t in the cards. Instead, she’s dragged off to Berlin, where her mother’s been offered a fellowship. After a few weeks of a… See more details below
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After two glorious (though somewhat hectic) semesters with her dad in New York City, Mimi must make good on her promise to her parents: summer break with her mom. But it seems going back to her cozy old life in Houston isn’t in the cards. Instead, she’s dragged off to Berlin, where her mother’s been offered a fellowship. After a few weeks of a nightmare nanny job, it becomes clear that Mimi’s European vacation isn’t much of a vacation after all. On the verge of a nervous breakdown, she receives a call from Lily Morton, her friend from New York, who invites her to London, where an internship at a family friend’s magazine awaits. Soon Mimi is at it again—living it up with glamorous friends, pursuing a new crush, and chasing down celebrities at her very entertaining job. For a while, Mimi’s convinced she has it made. Never before has fitting in been so easy. If only it could stay that way. Mimi may have gotten a handle on the Empire State—but that’s nothing compared to the state of the empire!
Mimi, 16, leaves her dad in New York City for a mandatory visit with her academic-psychologist mother in Berlin. When confronted with the woman's complete inability to understand her, she heads for London, where her friend Lily is staying. She takes on an internship with a tabloid magazine, which propels her into the glamorous-and ultimately seedy-world of late-night parties and gossiping about A-listers. Although similar to many recent teen series in their emphasis on fashion, British slang, and crushing on foreign boys, Mimi's world seems down-to-earth. Readers simply follow along, bad decisions and all, but life goes on. Several supporting characters are one-dimensional stereotypes added for the sake of humor; a horrid babysitter job foisted on Mimi in Berlin seems like an overused chick-lit cliché, and some of the story is a little hard to swallow, but teens looking for a lightweight read should enjoy this one, whether or not they've read the earlier books in the series.
Rhona CampbellCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
- Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
- Publication date:
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- Barnes & Noble
- NOOK Book
- File size:
- 1 MB
- Age Range:
- 12 Years
Meet the Author
Lauren Mechling grew up in Brooklyn, New York. She writes a weekly column for the New York Sun and has written for several other publications, including the Wall Street Journal and Seventeen Magazine.
Laura Moser grew up in Houston, Texas. She is the author of a biography of Bette Davis and reviews books for various publications.
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Read an Excerpt
Top three people I’d give anything to spend my summer with: Boris, the boyfriend I never see Lily, light of my social life, fire of my lunch hour Dad
Top three people I’d give anything not to spend my summer with: Mom Mom’s boyfriend, Maurice Mom and Maurice together
I used to look forward to the last day of school, back when summer was all about improving my backstroke and kicking back with my cat, Simon. But not this year. As the final days of tenth grade ticked by, I watched with growing envy as my friends pranced around in flip-flops and oversize sunglasses. I would’ve gladly taken summer school, or even one of those military-academy- cum-fat-camps advertised in the back of the New York Times Magazine, over the nightmare that awaited me.
Apart from DNA, my mother and I have very little in common. I’m five-eleven and growing; she’s well below the national average for women’s height and, therefore, has never suffered the humiliation of being called “sir” by inattentive clerks and waiters. Self-consciousness and bewilderment, my specialties, are completely foreign concepts to her. Once, when I asked her if she ever feels insecure or depressed, she chuckled and said she believes in positive thinking. Mom is a psychology professor, and an expert on denial.
Though usually too wrapped up in thinking positively about her own life to notice any developments in mine, she will occasionally descend from her cloud of self-absorption to hurt my feelings — inadvertently, of course. I often remind myself that, deep down, she loves me a lot; she just has a quirky way of expressing it. I let it slide when, after watching me fumble through a duet from Anything Goes at my eighth- grade talent show, she mentioned a position paper she’d read on female adolescents’ voice changes. When she scrutinized the beautiful gold heels I was wearing to the ninth-grade winter dance and declared that I needed “three extra inches like a hole in the head,” I brushed it off. But when, late last spring, she kicked my saintly father out of the house to shack up with Maurice, the roly-poly physics professor she claimed to be her “existential companion,” my patience ran out. If she could live without Dad, then she’d have to live without me too.
But in exchange for letting me hightail it to New York to spend this past school year with poor Dad, Mom extracted a promise in return: that I’d spend the summer with her in Houston. Or so I’d naively assumed. As it turned out, Mom had landed a summer fellowship at the Teichen Institute and expected me to tag along while she conducted spatial-memory experiments on rhesus monkeys.
The Teichen Institute, I should point out, is located in Berlin, a huge European metropolis where I’d know exactly two people: Mom and the aforementioned puffball physicist who’d replaced Dad.
With the school year drawing to a close, I began to dread the experience, and moped around the house accordingly. In the weeks before school let out, Quinn, Dad’s delightful darkroom assistant and an honorary member of our family, kept trying to cheer me up by describing Berlin as decadent and fabulous — a city where nobody works or gets up before noon. Quinn was unable to be serious about anything for longer than five seconds, and was a world-class expert at pulling Dad or me out of a funk. One night in late May, he even lured me to the couch and removed a red Netflix envelope from his messenger bag, announcing, “If you don’t love Germany after this masterpiece, I’m taking you to Bellevue for a mental health checkup!”
And so I was subjected to Satan’s Brew, an unbelievably pretentious German movie about a deranged anarchist poet named Walter who’s obsessed with a prostitute. Later in the film, Walter becomes convinced he’s the reincarnation of a gay nineteenth-century poet and loses interest in the streetwalker. It was a preposterous movie that solidified my suspicion of all things German, but I couldn’t tell that to Quinn, who was gasping from start to finish. “This was fun,” I said gamely after the movie was over. “Maybe you should come visit this summer. You can show me all the other German things that deserve a chance.”
“You’ll be fine without me,” Quinn promised, inserting the DVD back in its envelope. “I think your dad would decompose if we both left him.”
On the last day of school, my friends and I cut second period to hang out in Cadman Plaza Park, but the huge rectangle of dirt in downtown Brooklyn that served as Baldwin’s soccer/ baseball/Frisbee/Brazilian dance field had been cordoned off foor grass planting, so we sat on a bench in the shade. While the girls entertained themselves deciphering the senseless profanities carved into the bench (my favorite: “eat my burrito”), I was anxious — even more so after I looked at my watch and realized that in exactly twenty-four hours I’d be on a plane. A loud sigh sailed out of my mouth.
“Cheer up,” Pia said. “It’s only a few months. We’ll be here when you get back.”
“I know, I know,” I said. “It’s just . . . there are so many things I’d rather do with my summer than study German.”
“Like what, study Russian?” Lily ventured, an unsubtle reference to Boris Potasnik, my so- called sort-of-not-quite boyfriend.
Her joke only increased my gloominess, for Boris, too, had become a sore subject in recent weeks. In private, he played the part of boyfriend well, laughing at my jokes, complimenting my hideous freckles, and stashing Belgian chocolate bars inside my laptop case. It was how he behaved in public that troubled me. Whenever we hung out with other people, Boris didn’t just ignore me, but made a grand show of doing so. He’d avert his eyes and address everyone else in the room except yours truly, even if I was saying something supremely interesting, which, quite often, I was.
The problem was that Boris and I shared more than a love for smoked salmon and fancy chocolate. We also shared a close friend, Sam Geckman, and Sam and I had a highly complicated relationship, mostly thanks to a few brief and regrettable hookup sessions during the fall semester. Claiming that Sam had a crush on me, Boris thought it inappropriate to “flaunt” our relationship and insisted we “maintain a low profile” as a couple. “Just keep it cool,” he told me whenever I vented my growing frustration. But Boris was Russian, and his idea of cool was as cold as caviar on ice.
“It’s stupid to be depressed,” Jess told me. “It’s the last day of school, which means no more Zora Blanchard, no more Bugle melodramas, no more loopy assignments from Yuri Knutz. Three whole months of liberation are just an hour away! Next summer, we’re going to have to fill out college applications and visit campuses, so this is really it for us — the last free ride.”
Jess grinned, so moved by her own motivational speech that she suggested we go around in a circle and name the one thing we were most looking forward to that summer. I rolled my eyes, though I did love Jess for her optimism. While less financially blessed than her friends — she lived with her mother in a shabby walkup apartment in Park Slope and never had more than ten dollars in her piggy bank — she had us all beat for good humor.
“Fab. Me first,” Pia said, flicking back her chestnut-colored hair. “I can’t wait to learn how to drive a motorboat. I’m getting a license this summer.” She was headed to Lake Como, in northern Italy, to hang with long-lost cousins and various villa-dwellers, all of whom, she said, dressed exclusively in leopard print and cashmere.
“And I can’t wait to be somewhere where nobody cares about my mother,” Lily volunteered. Lily — the daughter of Margaret Morton, queen of the House and Home empire — was taking drama studies classes at some millennia-old academy in London, well beyond the reach of her mother’s fame. Perhaps in rebellion against Margaret Morton’s fastidious, perfectionist public image, Lily lived in men’s jeans and sweatshirts and wore her hair in a sloppy ponytail.
Viv, our resident rock ’n’ roller, took some time to formulate her answer. She had a big summer ahead of her: a mountaineering tour of Oregon and, later, an internship at Immortal Records in Manhattan. “I’m looking forward to not having to see my ex at school every day,” she said, and I tried not to wince. That winter she’d dated Sam — the same Sam who, according to Boris, was pining for me — and now, irritatingly, she refused to get over him. Viv’s fixation made zero sense to me, given the vast gulf in their attractiveness levels. Viv, who was half-Jewish and half-Filipino, had creamy skin, wide-set brown eyes, and a perfect body. Sam, on the other hand, was, well, Sam. Smart, funny, and charming, yes, but in the eleven years I’d known him, I hadn’t once heard him described as “hot.” Viv, when prodded by all of us to say something positive, admitted, “I guess I’m looking forward to spending time in the Oregon wilderness. Maybe I’m secretly an outdoorsy type.”
“Yeah, right.” Jess laughed. “We won’t hold our breath. You know what I’m the most excited about this summer?”
“Making piles of money?” I guessed. Jess was sticking around the city for a high-paid gig at an investment bank.
“No, wait, I know,” said Lily. “How about working side by side with the hottie who interviewed you?”
“Um, I appreciate the insults,” said Jess, “but you’re both way off. Actually, I’m most looking forward to this weekend fiction class I’m taking at the New School. The teacher is this awesome woman whose last novel was nominated for every prize under the sun. I’m totally making her my mentor.”
Lily and I exchanged guilty looks. We too easily forgot that Jess, with her flowing blond hair and résumé of athletic ex-boyfriends, had a serious side as well. She was one of the Poetry Review’s most valued members and spent Sunday afternoons combing used bookstores for first- edition hardbacks of J. D. Salinger books.
“Your turn, Texas,” Pia said with that authority I’d grown to love. At the moment, though, I wasn’t up to the task. Sighing, I kept my eyes on the empty paper bags that were blowing around the ground like props in a spaghetti Western. What did I look forward to this summer? Surviving it, and that was pretty much it. “I know,” I said sarcastically, “maybe my mom will let me touch one of her lab monkeys.”
“You know what?” Pia said. “You’re a total idiot.” But Jess and Viv were laughing, and sweet Lily said, not for the first time, “Remember, Mimi, I’ll be right across the channel in case of emergency. Just one time zone away if you ever need rescuing.”
An hour later, after our final assembly, where the seniors sang a teary rendition of “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” my friends and I left the building as tenth- graders for the last time. We lingered outside Baldwin for a few minutes to watch the annual shaving cream fight between the senior and junior classes, then walked down the block to the Court Street subway station. My train was on a different line, but to prolong the journey home, I accompanied my friends into Manhattan. They planned to sunbathe in Washington Square Park all afternoon. I, on the other hand, would be locked in my bedroom, preparing for my three- month prison sentence. My plane was leaving early the next morning, and if I wanted to attend the grad party that night, I needed to get organized.
I was hoping to pack in one last ice cream break with Dad and Quinn, but when I got home, I found them in the living room with some guy I’d never seen before. With his crisp polo, penny loafers, and phony-baloney laugh, the newcomer reminded me of a preppy serial murderer in a direct-to-cable movie.
“I like that,” he was saying to Dad when I popped my head into the living room. He paused to jot something down in a notebook, while Dad nervously fiddled with the large-format camera on the coffee table.
“Now,” the mystery guest said in a voice that sounded like it had been slicked down with baby oil, “I’ve noticed your work bears the imprint of Walter Benjamin. Am I right in detecting this?”
I was expecting Dad to respond in his usual fashion: by pressing the shutter release and snickering. But today he nodded seriously and said, “Absolutely — you can’t be a working photographer without considering the implications of Benjamin.”
“And obviously you’re presenting a perception in your pictures. What is your perception of other people’s perceptions of your perception?”
I could barely contain my laughter. Quinn, seeing this, stood up and motioned for me to join him in the kitchen. “That’s Darrell,” he told me. “He’s taking a criticism course at Columbia and wanted to interview Roger.”
“He picked Dad?” I couldn’t keep the skepticism from my voice. While Dad’s photography career had almost taken off in the 1980s with a big solo show he called Happy People, it had stalled soon afterward — mostly because Dad had such a relaxed and unambitious personality. After several false starts, he spent the better part of a decade teaching photography at Rice University, and while the magazine and catalog assignments that had since become his bread and butter were nicely turned out, he never mistook them for high art.
“I know, I haven’t the faintest clue where this kid came from, but he thinks your dad is some sort of underground genius and sounded desperate to meet him. How could I refuse? Besides, I thought Roger would get a kick out of some star treatment, especially after, you know, everything.”
Quinn was referring to Dad’s breakup a few months earlier with Fenella von Dix, installation artist extraordinaire. Even though he’d been the one to call it off, Dad had subsequently started to act needy and gloomy again, as he had in the months immediately following his separation from my mom.
“That’s a great question,” Dad was saying as I exited the kitchen and headed for the staircase that led to my room. “I’ve often wondered that myself. It’s Sontag’s earlier theories that really changed my perspective. But I found some of her later writings . . . how should I put it? Reductive, I guess.”
Teasing Dad about Darrell would have to wait, I thought. I had work to do. In my room downstairs, I put on Goats Head Soup, one of my favorite Rolling Stones CDs, and unzipped the suitcase I’d last used on my trip to Bravura Island over Presidents’ Day weekend. I’d gone there to report on my Bugle profile of Serge Ziff, a Baldwin parent who’d forked over a cool million to the school after catastrophic investments had placed it on the brink of shutdown. The story became slightly more complicated when I’d discovered that Serge Ziff dealt not only in art, but in illegal drugs. After the Baldwin administration had punished me for writing the article, my mentor Harriet Yates had helped me place a longer version of the story in the New York Tribune, one of the many papers her boyfriend, Ed Stern, owned. With Serge now awaiting trial, I was in serious debt to Harriet, whom I’d met randomly one afternoon in the bathroom of a Chelsea art gallery. At fifty-seven, she was nine years older, and about five hundred times cooler, than my mother. She had a formidable reputation as both an artist and a critic, but her real talent was with people; I couldn’t imagine my spring semester without her.
I overturned my suitcase and shook out the detritus from my tropical getaway. A grungy balled-up white T-shirt remained stubbornly wedged in the corner, and I decided to let it be, reasoning that I could always wash it in Germany. I had no idea what else to pack, since I wasn’t lucky enough to own the thigh-high leather boots and low-rider cotton underpants that the prostitute had donned in Satan’s Brew.
Suddenly there was a knock on the door, then a female calling, “Yoo-hoo!”
With the Rolling Stones playing so loud, I could barely make out the voice, and figured it was one of the Upstairs Judys dropping by with another container of mushy foodstuffs. Our friendly neighbors in the apartment above ours were killing time between documentary film projects by taking a one-month intensive Ayurvedic cookery course at the Open Center. In the past week alone, Dad and I had been treated to browned quinoa pumpkin stew and chia seed watermelon soup.
At the second, more insistent “Yoo-hoo!” I rushed over to open the door. Having expected a Tupperware container of burnt grains, I was pleasantly surprised to see my four best friends. “Don’t I know you guys from somewhere?” I asked.
“Your dreams,” Lily said as one by one they entered my room.
“What happened to Washington Square Park?” I asked.
“A total funeral procession of suburban Hacky Sack players and old dudes playing chess,” said Viv, turning up the volume on “Star Star.”
“Absolutely nobody was there,” Pia added emphatically.
I should point out that, in Pia’s world, “nobody” didn’t mean an absence of people, but rather an absence of people worthy of her attention. When I first met Pia, she completely intimidated me. I’d taken her for a world-class snob — which, in fact, she is. But I soon came to learn that she was also generous and hilarious and fiercely loyal. Because her jet-setting diplomat parents spent so little time in New York, Pia was something of a latchkey kid, often pressuring her friends into keeping her company while she ate dinner or did homework. Now that she was dating Isaac, the bespectacled math genius from Stuyvesant High School, Pia’s neediness had abated some.
“Let’s get you packed and then out of here,” she said. “Isaac and some of his friends are going to the planetarium and I said we’d meet them. You already got a start.” She gestured to my dirty T- shirt. “We can finish this job in five minutes.”
“But Pia, I’m not going away for the weekend — I’ll be gone for the entire summer!”
“So?” Pia raised a thick eyebrow at me. “Lest you forget, I’m going away for the summer tomorrow morning, too, and I don’t even have a suitcase. I’ll throw some crap in a couple of shopping bags at dawn. Which is what I recommend you do. They do have stores over there, you know.”
For someone with her astronomical IQ, Pia could be remarkably obtuse. She needed constant reminding that not all teenagers had a wallet full of platinum cards; most of us scraped by on erratically handed-out twenty-dollar bills.
“I can’t just buy a new wardrobe because I wasn’t in the mood to pack!” I told her.
“Whatever,” Pia said. “I’m just saying, if you need a few things when you get over there, like some T- shirts and socks, I’m sure you’ll figure it out.”
“I guess,” I said. “Not that it matters what I wear or anything, since Germany isn’t exactly fashion central.” Besides, I thought, however conservative or funky my outfit, I always end up looking exactly the same. Maybe it’s my hair — brown, chin-length, and perpetually shaggy, no matter how I try to tame it. Or my resemblance to a giraffe: tall, gangly, and covered everywhere with freckles. Whatever the cause, I never quite manage to look half as groomed or pulled together as the Pias of the world.
“Here,” Pia chirped. “Allow me to demonstrate my time-tested packing method.”
She marched over to my closet and started transferring armloads of clothes to my suitcase. Viv pitched in by emptying the contents of my underwear and T-shirt drawers into the suitcase, Jess by piling my dirty-clothes hamper on top of the underwear heap.
“And now,” Pia said, “for the encore presentation . . .”
She instructed Lily to plant herself on top of the now-overstuffed suitcase. Lily did so, and with some effort Pia succeeded in zipping it shut. Unbelievable. “Not ideal,” she said, “but it’ll do. Now, shall we?”
“Do I have a choice?” I said, shaking my head in astonishment as my friends filed out the door and up the stairs. I called goodbye to my dad and his entourage, then shut the door behind us. But once we were in the entry hall, I remembered something important. “Hold on one sec,” I said, and went back into the apartment.
In the kitchen, I dialed Boris’s cell. “About time,” he said, picking up on the first ring.
“Missed me that much?”
“I’ve just been counting the days until you finished tenth grade,” he said. “Thank God I’m finally dating an upperclassman — it’s so much more dignified.”
I giggled. Boris loved joking about my being one year below him in school, though in age I was only seven months younger. Out of respect for the interview still taking place in the next room, I lowered my voice and told him about tonight’s plan. I had a complicated evening ahead: first the end-of-year cocktail party organized in my honor by Harriet and Ed; then the notorious Baldwin grad party. Double-billing usually stressed me out, but both of tonight’s events were downtown, a quick twenty-minute walk apart.
“Harriet and Ed’s sendoff starts at eight, so if we want to have enough time there before the grad party, we should try to show up right on time. Sound good?”
Oh, God, I thought, not this again. I tapped my right Converse on the floor and waited.
When Boris spoke again, his voice was less playful. “Why don’t I just see you at the grad party?” he suggested. “I don’t think I can make it to Harriet’s. The thing is, Mimi . . .” Boris paused. “I kind of made pre-plans with Sam . . .”
His voice trailed off, but I could complete his sentence in my sleep. However much he professed to like me, Boris could not stop harping on Sam’s alleged “issues.” I say “alleged” because I didn’t believe they existed, at least not to the extent that Boris did.
Here’s more or less what happened: On several occasions last semester, I made the mistake of kissing my oldest friend in the world. Following this mistake, said oldest friend decided he had a crush on me, but he soon enough overcame this delusion and began dating Viv. End of story.
While Boris continually insisted that Sam was “still in love” with me, I knew my childhood friend’s psychology better than that. He was simply freezing me out, punishing me for so openly choosing another guy over him — and a close friend of his at that. Now, I constantly asked Boris, if Sam were really in love with me, wouldn’t he e-mail more than once a week, or return more than a quarter of my calls, or acknowledge my existence at Baldwin parties with more than a polite nod and mumbled pleasantry? But these examples never seemed to help my case. If anything, Boris used them to reinforce his own argument.
“Boris,” I said as patiently as I could manage, “in case you forgot, this is our last night together. I’m going away for the entire summer.”
“Relax, you cow,” he said — short for “cowgirl,” by the way, his private nickname for me — “stop being so pessimistic. Why rush when we have all the time in the world?”
“But this party tonight is in my honor. Without you there it’ll feel . . . unnatural. Incomplete. You understand that, right?”
“I’ll be there, I promise.” There was a pause. “In spirit. You know I’m your biggest fan, Mimi.”
“I heard that somewhere.” I put the phone down and counted to ten.
As I went outside to rejoin my friends, I felt the old anger swell up in me. It made no sense. You’d think that the night before I left town, Boris could publicly acknowledge our relationship for once. But no. Never — at least not when Sam Geckman is in the same time zone, which is pretty much all the time.
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