I don't think there's ever been a greater difference in my feelings between the first and second books in a series than with this one. The first book, TOP 8, fell short in nearly every aspect. This one brings the awesome. The book picks up a couple months after the end of the last book, with everyone in full Prom-preparation mode. The favored social-networking site in this one is Status Q, a Twitter-esque knockoff linked up to the character's Friendverse profiles. As in the last book, the Assistant Headmaster, Mr. Trent, is keeping tabs on Madison's profile and becomes angry and concerned when he sees that she's publicly announced the fact that she has the Hayes Crown in her possesion. The Hayes Crown is the school's heirloom, used to crown the Prom Queen, and Madison's been trusted with delivering it to the hotel where the Prom is set to be held. (As an aside here, Mr. Trent drove me absolutely crazy in this book. He disabled the accounts of students whose statuses he didn't approve of, used the location function to make sure students weren't late to class, and in general totally ignored freedom of speech. Did anyone else get this?)
Of course, things don't go as planned. When Madison procrastinates in getting the crown to the hotel, an old enemy seizes the opportunity and manages to steal it, prompting Madison and her motley crew of friends and almost-friends to plan a whole Bond-esque heist to get it back. The crew includes not only her closest friends, but also nearly everyone we met in the first book (well, all the good guys at least), which causes the book to be much more action and ensemble-oriented instead of being all about Madison. The plot is done well and moves at a great pace, coming together almost perfectly in the last few climactic scenes. Unlike in the last book, where so many of the characters seemed unlikeable, the characters here are more developed and more realistic. Though Lisa still has an annoying habit of breaking into French, most of the annoying and/or stereotypical habits from the first book are incredibly understated here. As for Madison herself, she seems to have grown up a bit -- she's more realistic, more mature, less annoying, and altogether mellowed out. Having learned from her madcap chase when her profile was hacked in the first book, she really thinks things through this time and the book is much better for it. The best secondary characters from the first book are really pushed into the spotlight here, new relationships develop, and there are plenty of subplots that continually run into each other -- and all of it is done well.
Though there are plenty of things in the novel that are difficult to believe (like, why would a public school have a priceless crown as an heirloom? that they use to crown the prom queen?), but it's easy enough to overlook those things for the sake of the story. The setting here revolves nearly entirely around Prom and pre-Prom madness, which makes for an excellent setting and feel, especially as the characters are all dressed up in formal wear and attempting to pull of a heist. There's something about this that really sets the book apart from other chick-lit and Prom stories. The voice here is believable and though there's a lot to keep track of, everything works together really well.
Reading TOP 8 definitely gives you a sense of who these characters are and what their lives are like, but this book can easily stand on its own and it's definitely not necessary to read the first before diving into this one. On the whole, this is a very enjoyable, fun, fast-paced book that puts its predecessor to shame.