A bright teenager whose free-spirited Foreign Service worker mother is transferred to Mexico City spends a momentous senior year struggling to find herself at an elite private school.
After a few stable years in Washington, D.C., Milagro “Mila” Epstein has plenty of misgivings when landing in the smoggy splendor of Mexico City. An excellent student raised in various countries by her single mother, Maggie, she is understandably curious to finally be living in the hometown of her biological father—a married Mexican politico whom Maggie refuses to name. (Her mom’s secret, which she claims to be keeping in an effort to protect them both, is but a small obstacle to the intrepid Mila, who has ambitions of becoming a journalist.) What really stresses the 17-year-old out is starting over at a new school. The fortress-like International School of Mexico (ISM) is about as cliquey as they came. A hotbed of sex, drugs and underage drinking, ISM has a student body made up of American kids with parents working in the city, a majority being the glamorous offspring of Mexico’s moneyed upper class (known as “fresas,” or strawberries, in the local slang). The fresas live in a rarified world of extreme privilege, with designer clothing, private cars with drivers and a lack of supervision that American kids can only dream of. Initially, Mila hangs out with her own kind, even losing her virginity, disastrously, to a friendly seeming boy-next-door type who never learned that no means no. She also experiments with drugs (and dealers) and battles with her well-meaning mother. Of course, Maggie has dramas of her own: She starts dating her married boss after her stand-up boyfriend Armando is murdered. When Mila starts dating the dreamy fresa Manuel, Maggie cannot help but approve. The son of a well-connected plastic surgeon, Manuel introduces the girl to the upper echelons of Mexican society, including the mystery man who may or may not be her dad. It is then left to Mila to decide how far to go for the truth.
Teen angst south-of-the-border: Monroy’s debut is most notable for its pungent characterization of Mexico City, where political assassinations and bribery are commonplace in a 12th grader’s life.