If you love drugs and Mexico, you will love this book.
I just spent the whole day in bed reading Liza Monroy’s Mexican High, and it felt fucking fantastic. The novel takes place at the notorious D.F. high school the author herself attended during the period in which the book takes place. That’s the early nineties, so it’s heavy on the Cobain.
My serial killer groupie novel-in-process, Friends to the End, also takes place in the early nineties, but in Central California. I enjoyed seeing the same cultural phenomena of the times from the Mexican perspective. If my high school had this level of drugs, sex, and nightlife excitement, I might not have dropped out.
What I Loved About Mexican High
¡Qué escándalo! All of the drugs are represented in this book. Well, they left meth out because naco. Teenagers in Prada do cocaine instead, along with ecstasy, weed, LSD, peyote, and one drug that I still can’t figure out. It was weed that was red, it was laced with something, but then no one seemed to be hallucinating. Quincy has led me to believe that PCP leads to behavior like leaping to your death because you believe you can fly, not clubbing. This is a side of Mexico I have not experienced, and now I’m too old. I was glad to have the opportunity to do so vicariously through Monroy’s Milagro, aka Mila.
I appreciated how skillfully Monroy wove the complex threads of Mila’s life together. Being a teenager is complicated enough without being rich and virtually parentless in the jet set crowd of an international city. I had never considered the fresas before or what it would be like to be the child of a corrupt politician or a drug lord. There’s nothing I love more than something completely new. Monroy nailed it on so many things, including how a teenager can accidentally end up sleeping with a few guys. In a row. It happens.
The storyline about Nina, the bad friend who does nothing but drag Mila down, is one I related to all too well. When you’re young and emotionally starved at home, it’s easy for those toxic people to spot you. They smell your isolation and desperation like blood in the water. I was once also appointed the instant best friend of a kleptomaniac. A pathological liar kleptomaniac who suddenly started pretending to be British years into our friendship. The character of Nora, whose friendship Mila outgrows even as she clings to it, was also one that stung.
What I Didn’t Love About It
I give Mexican High four out of five stars because there were certain elements of it that took me out of the moment as a reader. The storyline’s pacing was immersive, but then once in a while I’d get sucked right back out of something I had been sucked into when Monroy threw in present-day commentary that made it seem as though the story was being retold as an episode from the past instead of something that is happening to the character in real time. For example, when she mentions one character googling another years later. The events in the book deserved total commitment to action. It’s not The Notebook.
I found it really strange that Monroy wrote that the school gave three days off for Cinco de Mayo, which is not celebrated at all in Mexico and is strictly a drinking holiday in the U.S. And what was up with that weird cold pee scene in the desert? How would that even happen? Can it be so hot out that urine exiting your body could possibly be chilly in comparison?
Mila’s many symbolic hair color changes also had me wondering if Monroy has ever dyed her hair. In one scene, she is depicted lying down while dyeing her hair purple. Somehow, she put this purple dye over black dye and her hair ends up bright purple. Then, the character goes into the salon with layers of black and purple box dye and emerges a few hours later a blonde. Believe me, I wish it worked that way, but it just doesn’t. No matter how much peyote Mila did in Real de Catorce first, the melted mess that used to be her hair would not be a hallucination.
I did not appreciate Monroy’s mouth-watering descriptions of foods her characters’ servants made them. I blew my diet because of it, and now I’ve promised my husband I’ll make enchiladas suizas tomorrow. There is no such thing as diet enchiladas suizas.
All in all, I recommend this book. I just wish Spiegel & Grau would have let me do one final round of edits before they published it, jajaja.