Dear Chanel Cleeton:
I used to love Princess Diaries. The international high school, Tina Hakim Baba and her bodyguards, the nerdy older brother, and Mia, the reluctant princess. It spoke to my inner tween. In many of the same ways, I See London echoes those feelings.
While it’s billed as New Adult, it reads more upper YA to me. There’s very little focus on school and a heck of a lot of focus on the guys which is perfectly fine. It’s a romance but for a girl who planned to go to Harvard and choose the International School in London, a privileged private college for moneyed students all over the world, I thought there might be a bit more emphasis on the school and the plans that she has for this expensive schooling.
There isn’t any of that. Instead the story focuses on a few students and the nightclubs they attend.
Maggie Carpenter is a scholarship student who gets stuck in a small dorm room with a stuck up sophomore named Fleur and a sweet freshman from Nigeria named Mya. The best thing about I See London is that it manages to avoid most of the stereotypical tropes that the poor girl in a rich school could follow. Maggie is accepted and while there are times she feels self conscious about the lack of high end brands in her closet, it isn’t her defining characteristic.
She has an immediate connection to junior Samir Khouri, a half Lebanese and half French, all manwhore but he spends half of his time smirking at her and the other half ignoring her. One night early in the book, Maggie meets Hugh, a “old” man to the other college girls at the age of twenty-seven. Hugh is interested in sleeping with young Maggie but because of her inexperience and her crush on Samir, she makes Hugh chase her.
I’m not a big fan of triangles and I avoided this story for a long time because of it. However, it is obvious who the long term interest is and neither one acts like a prince toward Maggie. Hugh seems more interested in sex, telling her at one point that he broke up with his last girlfriend because she wanted a commitment. Samir is busy trying to nail every scantily clad woman who throws herself at him in a bar.
There was just enough suspense to the relationship Maggie developed with the male characters to keep my reading but one of my favorite connections was the one Maggie developed with difficult Fleur. One odd unresolved aspect of the story is Maggie’s relationship with her father. Her mother left when she was a child and her father is a “fighter pilot” in South Carolina. He is always away on “missions” and doesn’t ever have time to call home. A pretty big bombshell is dropped by her father during the school year. That plot thread was left hanging and Maggie’s response to it came off subdued.
The international flavor of the book certainly lends a different feel, even though I found some of the world building inauthentic. A couple of reviews mentioned how they loved reading about London, Paris, and Venice and although the reader hadn’t ever been there it was great to read about those places. Tragically, Venice is inaccurately represented and I’m surprised no one caught the obvious errors.
When the characters jet off to Venice, they arrive at the hotel via boat but reference getting a cab while lost in the streets and then a car (Maybach) arrives at the hotel to take the Maggie from the hotel to the airport. Rudimentary research would reveal that the islands that comprise the city center of Venice allow no motorized traffic. You get around on boat or on foot. Water taxis or vaprettos (the water bus) take you to places if you don’t or can’t walk. It was such a big misstep that I couldn’t help but wonder about every other detail presented after that. The hotel that the characters stay at is a real hotel in Venice, but even its own website notes that the only ways to get to their hotel via the airport or train is via water taxi (private or public) or vapretto.
There were a couple of other missteps. Hugh is a wealthy young man who drives a Ferrari. He takes Maggie on a date, drops her at the front door and then tells her that he needs to park his car. No valet? At times, I felt like we were playing at being international and wealthy instead of being fully immersed in the world.
As problematic as some of it was, the international flavor (even if some of it was very off) was entertaining and it’s full of happy wish fulfillment. I was hooked enough to go buy the second book which is out in July. C