The old adage says to write what you know, but I’m not sure I realized how much I was adhering to it until we were about halfway through Spoiled, and Molly was struggling to make sense of both her new surroundings and her place in them. That aspect of Molly’s journey is very personal to me, because the sensation of being the New Kid In School — of feeling like all eyes are on you even if nobody’s actually looking at all, and then not being able to decide which is worse — is something I’ve experienced multiple times in my life. Obviously without the wrinkle of the action-star dad and a Bel Air mansion, but in the end that’s what makes Molly’s story resonant for me: What she’s going through is universal, even if the rest of us don’t have her advantage of being able to go home and cry into her 1000 thread-count sheets while a former Iron Chef makes comfort food.
The first time I really remember being new at school, I was six, and we had just moved to England. I’m sure this was much harder on my two older sisters, who were grappling with middle and upper school, but for me it was a piece of cake: When you’re in first grade, all you really have to do is not be a nose-picker, and you’re golden. But when I was thirteen, and my family got transferred to Miami, Florida — an ocean and what felt like a universe apart from the life I’d known and loved — it hit me hard. It was the era of the Limited selling tight Lycra dresses, and like Molly moving from Indiana to glitzy California, I found myself adrift among all these girls with perfect tanned legs in their perfect tiny uniform shorts or their second-skin spandex. I was just this pasty lump who didn’t go to the beach and was addicted to soap operas. What did I have to offer, anyway? Thirteen is a tough age — you don’t always know who and what you are, and you’re around a bunch of people who might not be admitting it but are going through the same kinds of struggles. There’s all that pressure to look and act more grown-up than you are, because you feel like you’re not a kid, but you’re also not an adult, so where does that leave you? Basically, you’re a Britney Spears song. (And look how that went.)
Fortunately, a few kind souls reached out to me, and so even as I struggled with desperately missing the life I had left, they made me feel like I could build a new one. They were my Max McCormack: She became Molly’s link to sanity and these people became mine, deigning to sit down and talk to me and care about what I had to say. Slowly, I cried less, and socialized more. I stopped begging my mom to let me go back to England as a boarding student at my old school (which sounded romantic, but actually probably would’ve involved a lot of gnarly cafeteria food and personal-space issues that, in retrospect, I was more than happy to wait and deal with in college). I decided instead to be where I was, which you’d think isn’t that much of an epiphany, but it can be — especially at that age, when you’re all about what color the grass is over there, and whether it’s prettier than yours, and whether there’s a hot guy sitting on it who also likes 90210 and All My Children.
When I moved again at age fifteen, this time all the way up to chilly Canada, I tried to take to heart some of what I learned in Miami. I tried to smile even when I was tearful inside; I pasted that sucker on there through low times, lonely times, embarrassing times, uncertain times. I still occasionally cried to my mom and begged for a different answer, but my mother did the same thing she did in Miami: She listened, she heard me, she never condescended to me, but she also never acquiesced to me. And she was right in Miami, so I knew she’d be right in Canada too. My school was small, the social circles pretty well-defined, so I floated for about a year before I stumbled into my place there, but the whole time I just sort of kept on keeping on — this time, a Finding Nemo song, when Dorie blithely croons to just keep swimming, just keep swimming… I just let myself trust that my happy ending, my new home, would find me along the way if I didn’t find it first. And it did.
So in the end, for me, Spoiled isn’t just the story of a girl who discovers her famous father and an entitled sister. Rather, it’s about the things Molly learns about herself, the resources she draws on, the decisions she makes in order to try and fit into a place she finds cold and foreign and strange — and how she has to decide whether fitting in is worth compromising anything about who she is. We’ve all been there, to varying degrees. Some people fight that battle writ large; others in a hundred tiny ways every day, like daring to stick up for someone or something unpopular, or voicing a divergent opinion at the water cooler. In that sense, and in a hundred others, Spoiled is more than a piece of fiction. It’s also a piece of me. And maybe a piece of you, too.
As for the rest of it: I have two awesome older sisters who, unlike Brooke, have never leaked anything about me to the tabloids, intentionally or otherwise (not that the tabloids would care, unless I were Jennifer Aniston’s surrogate or something). I’m a University of Notre Dame grad (’99); an absolute sports fanatic; a mother of identical twin boys who are turning two in June and who would rather eat books right now than read them; a dual citizen of the UK and US who hopes to live overseas again someday; a crossword lover; a devout advocate of carbohydrates; a salt-food junkie; and the proud owner of a Dynasty commemorative plate that will, per what’s written on the back, give me lead poisoning if I ever try to eat off it. And I play the piano, but only if I’m alone, because apparently some neuroses are more powerful than positive thinking.