Foreign Exposure: The Social Climber Abroad
Lauren Mechling and Laura Moser’s third book in the Social Climber series finds the 10th grade heroine, Miriam “Mimi” Schulman, spending a summer in Europe, continuing her high school journalistic exploits. The popularity of the series is evident in the relatable characters. Complete with excerpts from email correspondence, the “realness” of the characters mixed with the glamour of the narrative makes an excellent foray into youths’ pleasure reading.
The plot takes the reader through Mimi’s summer travels. First, she goes to Berlin to partake in a dysfunctional relationship with her professor mother and her mother’s boyfriend. After undergoing nanny hell taking care of two eight-year-old twin boys, who are allergic to everything under the sun, Mimi flees Berlin by herself (and unbeknownst to her mother) to a safe haven of a high school friend named Lily staying in London. There, Mimi interns at a gossip magazine, thanks to Lily’s rich and powerful connections. Through a series of mishaps, boy attraction and moral dilemmas, Mimi manages to run away from some problems while resolving others.
An easy read and generally well-written, I recommend this book with some caveats. First, the dialogue of all British characters is often stilted and awkward. Although it is written from an American perspective, the awkwardness can be distracting at some points. Second, from a feminist perspective the story does little to address ideas of empowerment, solidarity or accountability. As part of a young adult a genre, I understand the book’s aim to create a glamorous yet believable plot. At the same time, most of the character development and plot turns focus on Mimi’s relationships with boys. Even though most of the book takes place in Europe, it begins and ends with her contemplations about the boys and men that surround her at home. This makes me wonder, why did Mimi need to take a trip to Europe? While Mimi’s flight from Berlin was an impressive feat of youthful female independence, “girl power” even, the jet-set, upper-crust context just reinforces the notion that the only way for girls to pursue their dreams is through men and money.
I wish I could recommend this book more enthusiastically, since there are many elements of it that are charming and likeable. However, it does very little to stretch or challenge the young adult genre for young women, and comes across as superficial overall. While I can understand its appeal to teenage girls, parents and librarians might have to supplement it with more empowering and complex fare.