In what is perhaps the defining symbolic moment in The Rise and Fall of the 10th-Grade Social Climber, young Mimi Schulman, a Houstonian newly transplanted to Manhattan, pulls on a pair of burgundy cowboy boots, an embarrassing gift from her father. She forgets to take them off, and spends the high school day mortified, especially when the resident cool girls whisk her off on a trip to get fake IDs. She prays that no one will notice the damning shoes, but suddenly one of the social elite, the trendy daughter of European ambassadors, says, "Your boots are completely the shit."
Go figure! Something from Houston can be cool in New York? Once she figures out what "the shit" means, Mimi's spirits are lifted; she's forged a path to popularity at her tony new Brooklyn school. The Rise and Fall of the 10th-Grade Social Climberis for teens, as indicated by its profligate use of such terms as "bitchorama," "shit-kicking" and "yuck-o." But the basic conflict is one any Houstonian can recognize: a major inferiority complex at the hands of a Texan upbringing.
Social Climber is co-written by native New Yorker Lauren Mechling and native Houstonian Laura Moser. The two met at Amherst College and remained friends as they embarked on writing careers in New York. They'd previously collaborated on a screenplay, but Mechling had an epiphany when she interviewed the author of a book for teens. "She was like, God, this is the biggest thing happening in publishing," Moser says. "If we want to make money and have a relaxing life, we should write teen novels. Everyone writes screenplays."
So, Moser says, they basically "just went to a bar and wrote out the plot one day," creating Mimi, the mother she hates, the father she flees to in New York and the edgy clique she tries to join there. The book is laden with stereotypes: One girl summers on the Cape, wears only Ralph Lauren and raves about making lanyard bracelets; Mimi's older sister obsesses over pledging Kappa at UT and demands a set of chambray linens from her mother for her dorm room. Then again, stereotypes are the primary sustenance for the teenage mind, and Moser and Mechling's are funny and rich with detail.
Houston is one casualty of all this stereotyping; it doesn't come away looking good. Besides saying that "cotton candy pink is always the new black" in Houston, Mimi takes one final visit home and sums up her visit in "two words: 'totally' and 'sucked.'" This decision, though, reflects less on Houston than on Mimi's mother (who, according to Mimi, deserves the "Nobel Prize of Annoying"). "We just wanted there to be a clean break with her mother," Moser says. "I really do like Houston. It's like hip in a way that's not invasive in the way that New York is."
But in the future, Mimi will leave Texas further behind: Mechling and Moser are working on two sequels to Social Climber, in which Mimi ultimately moves to Europe. Though Moser happily and frequently comes home, Mimi seems poised to become one more snobbish New Yorker who derides our cowtown.
To them, we say: If there were no Houston, there'd be no Hilary Duff, and then where would America's teens be?