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November 13, 2008

Book Notes - Liza Monroy ("Mexican High")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.

Liza Monroy's Mexican High is one of the year's most refreshing debut novels. Drawing from her personal experience as a diplomat's daughter at a Mexican boarding school, Monroy paints a vivid picture of Mexico City in this coming of age tale that teenagers will appreciate as much as adults.

The Seattle Times wrote of the book:

"Monroy renders Mexico City in all its contradictory aspects — poverty, beauty, danger, pollution, opportunity — and makes Mila's struggle to find herself very real. The title, which suggests south-of-the-border hallucinogens, doesn't really suggest the complexity and honesty of this excellent debut novel."

In her own words, here is Liza Monroy's Book Notes essay for her debut novel, Mexican High:

The grunge era figures heavily into my novel, Mexican High, and my playlist is mostly derived from that time period. The story is set during the main character Milagro’s senior year of high school, 1993-1994. I admit to taking few liberties with timeline; the death of drug lord Amado Carillo Fuentes happened a few years later, for example, but you’ll find it in one of the book’s subplots. Some events were just too dramatic not to include, so I chalked it up to magical realism and went for it.

The early nineties, of course, marked the birth of grunge, known for a while as the “Seattle sound.” Milagro begins to listen to this music in Mexico City, and it makes for the perfect soundtrack to some good old fashioned teenage rebellion—you know, bribing police, having a peyote adventure in a Mexican desert, looking for the corrupt politician father whose identity is a secret your mother’s desperate to keep…that sort of thing. Here are some of the quintessential tracks that inspired me while writing Mexican High. They were mostly born in the 90s, but I’ve included a few favorites from other musical genres and eras, including Rock en Espanol. So ready your Discman; I mean, iPod:

Cannonball / The Breeders

Last Splash was the first CD I bought when I got a Discman that connected to my tape deck via an output cable. I wanted to be Kim and Kelley so bad I saved up for a used bass and learned to play every song on the album, but I never quite got the rhythm of this one down.


Café Tacuba: "Esa Noche"

A beautiful and classic song off the Mexican rock band’s 1994 album Re, the chorus lyrics “no me hubieras dejado esa noche/ porque esa misma noche encontre un amor” are, I believe, in the past perfect subjunctive tense (or is it past imperfect? These things always boggled me in Advanced Spanish and clearly continue to do so). Whatever the tense, it translates to: “you shouldn’t have left me that night, because that same night I found a true love.” It’s more poetic in the subjunctive in Spanish, but the melodic guitar and melancholy-yet-hopeful sentiment epitomize what I love about Mexican music. Here is a video of an acoustic version:


Nirvana: "Come as You Are"

The song everyone in high school used in early attempts at playing the guitar. And you can understand the This was actually my favorite song off the album Nevermind; its video has that cool pixilated thing going on and reminds me of an MTV before the era of bad reality shows, when the M actually stood for Music instead of Moronic.


Stone Temple Pilots: "Plush"

Ridiculously popular when it came out in 1992—and easily confused with Pearl Jam—this song brings back the earliest memories of teen angst. I taped it off the radio of my boom box in Mexico City in late 1993. I had no idea what the song was and no Internet to go plug some of the lyrics into to find out. How did we ever get by in those days?


Manu Chao: "Me Gustas Tu"

I think of “Me Gustas Tu” as a musical Spanish lesson via a list of Mr. Chaos likes, with a little French thrown in. (“Me gusta el viento/ me gustas tu…me gusta la mar/ me gustas tu”) It’s such a sweet and catchy tune; the first time I heard it, in a car in Los Angeles, I had it stuck in my head the entire day. Then I immediately got the CD and listened to it obsessively.


Pearl Jam: "Even Flow"

To me, this song competes with Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for the title of the ultimate grunge song. Every girl had a crush on Eddie Vedder in the early 90s. The long, post-hair-band hair! The way he swung it around onstage!


The Pixies: "Monkey Gone to Heaven"

I discovered these forefathers of grunge because one of my high school boyfriends-in-a-band was into them. I was instantly captivated by Frank Black’s voice, Kim Deal’s bass, along with this song’s narrative of the “underwater guy who controlled the sea” who was “killed by ten million pounds of sludge from New York and New Jersey.” I’d sit in the school bus and keep playing it over and over again until getting to school, where I’d play it again and again in math class by wiring the earphones of my Discman up through my flannel shirt. Hearing “Monkey” played live at Coachella during the Pixies reunion tour was my high school dream come true.

Liza Monroy and Mexican High links:

the author's website
the author's Amazon blog
the author's page at the publisher
the book's page at the publisher
the book's Facebook group
the book's MySpace page

Adventures in Reading review
Booklist review
Coral Gables Gazette review
Elle review
Guadalajara Reporter review
Lit Mob review
Publishers Weekly review
San Francisco Chronicle review
Seattle Times review
St. Louis Post-Dispatch review

Bookslut interview with the author
The Brooklyn Paper profile of the author
Doubleday podcast interview with the author
Huffington Post blog entries by the author
The Kerouac Project posts by the author
Largehearted Boy Why Obama essay by the author
Spiegel & Grau essay by the author about returning to Mexico
The Urban Muse interview with the author
The Window Seat essay by the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Online "Best Books of 2008" Lists
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Why Obama (musicians and authors explain their support of the Democratic presidential candidate's campaign)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
directors and actors discuss their film's soundtracks
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2008 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)

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