Winter Books Issue - 2005

Growing up snotty

Veterans of the prep school wars live to write another day
Winter Books Issue - 2005 /

The Rise and Fall of a 10th Grade Social Climber
Laura Moser and Lauren Mechling
Graphia/Houghton Mifflin, 2005, $7.99

At Mimi Schulman’s new school there are no real grades, the most popular girls are the least perfect, and blondes are social outcasts. This average girl thought she knew what she was in for when she moved from one school to another, but as the tall 10th grader soon realizes, there’s a bigger difference than climate between life in Houston, Texas with her mother and life in New York City with her father. Determined to join the social elite, Mimi bets her best friend that she can be a part of the popular crowd and begins a series of adventures that take her through Hamptons homes, performance art events and a deli where teens can get fake IDs. She must make her way through New York and up the social ladder before the Christmas break.

The account of Mimi’s first semester at Baldwin High School races through parties, parent-induced stress and many late nights. On the friendship front, Mimi is dealing with romantic tension from her old friend Sam while learning how to hang with the children of celebrities, ambassadors and the wealthy. At school her teachers lack focus and she is praised for an essay in which she compares her cat to a cheeseburger. All the while her parents are so busy trying to reorder their own lives they can’t keep up with the pace of Mimi’s new life. They are so clueless they don’t even get her a cell phone.

The Rise and Fall of a 10th Grade Social Climber is co-authored by Laura Moser and Lauren Mechling, one from Texas and the other from New York. They draw on their own experiences and their rich imaginations to bring Mimi’s fall semester to life.

‘The primary point is entertainment,’ says Mechling, adding that she’s happy when she hears that ’someone has read it in a day.’ The book also fits with what Moser and others have noticed–the trend ‘to make things more racy’ in young adult fiction.

Mimi’s new life is not just slightly racy, it’s complicated and confusing. She has stepped through the looking glass completely, but it’s not just a New York thing. Mimi is dealing with very common struggles: being at a new school, trying to be popular, re-thinking old relationships and coping with her parents’ recent divorce. To win her wager, Mimi must understand and then infiltrate the social circles that surround her. This is high school–and in retrospect, high school is entertaining.

As Mimi climbs the social ladder, the people she meets along the way give wide appeal to the book. When she was younger, co-author Mechling, found some young adult fiction frustrating because the protagonists were ‘too girl next door.’ In contrast, Mimi has flaws as well as good points and reflects the reality that ‘people are very messy and complicated.’ Though some events in her life may be different from those of readers, Mimi’s personality and troubles sound very familiar. Her friends seem real and their experiences ring true.

Social Climber is part of the growing market for young adult fiction. According to Moser, it is partially due to increasing ‘consumer independence’ for young adults, leading to a boom in books ‘written for youth to buy and not for parents to approve of first.’ The book reflects the trend of treating readers of young adult fiction as adult consumers. According to Mechling, there is now a ‘less distinct boundary between adult and young adult fiction.’ Writing down to their audience is not part of the agenda for Moser and Mechling. Rather, they seek to write characters and stories that are reflective of reality for youth today. They also believe, adds Mechling, that their readers should be ‘respected as fully-formed individuals.’

In aiming to please young adult readers rather than parents, Moser and Mechling seem to have found success. The co-authors have been engaged to release two more books about Mimi Schulman’s life. The Social Climber Digs Deeper is due out in May 2006. It covers Mimi’s second semester at Baldwin and, according to Mechling, is ‘a bit more of an interior story,’ wherein ’she’s involved in a journalistic adventure that takes her all over the place.’ Coming out in May 2007 is All Hail the Social Climber, about Mimi’s summer in Europe after 10th grade.

While it may seem like the book title gives everything away, it doesn’t betray essential plot elements or detract from the pleasure of reading this book. It’s quick, it’s fun, it’s entertaining–good for the beach, the bus and maybe even the back of the classroom. Furthermore, it contains the key to success in the shifting sands of the literature market: treat all consumers like adults and cater to their desires. Mimi’s attempt to get what she wants gives readers everything they want.