Sunday, January 4, 2015

review: popular

I hate to start reviews off with this sentence, but I just have to. Cue valley-girl squealing here: This book is so cute! At the start of her eighth grade year, social outcast Maya Van Wagenen decides to use a 1950s guide to style and popularity. Yes, it's a quirky social experiment (Maya is unabashedly a nerd), but it's also an honest attempt to rise in the ranks of popularity. Each month Maya puts into practice a new chapter of Betty Cornell's old-school popularity guide. She starts with "Figure Problems" (read: weight) and "Hair" and works her way to "It's a Date" and "Be a Hostess," making daily notes on her successes, failures, and the reactions of those around her. (Pilgrim-style shoes: might make people think you're homeless. Pearls: actually kind of cool.)

Maya is now fifteen years old, which means she wrote this book as a 13/14 year old. I don't like to talk about authors' ages typically, because whether you're a teenager or a fifty-year old, all I want is a good story. Good writing. That said (and trust me, Popular is a good story full of good writing), Popular reminds me so much of my own eighth-grade journals -- quirky social experiment aside -- if my journals were well-written, with dialogue and scenes. That is to say that Van Wagenen's unique view of the world and her place in it rings true; as with any teenager's diary there's the trivial mixed with the big-picture. Dieting and makeup mixed with neighborhood drug dealers and school lockdowns. And amid all of this are the kind of smart teenage insights that many of us sadly tend to forget about as we grow up and disavow our younger days. This book is a reminder that teenagers can be just as stupid, and just as insightful, as grown-ups. 

I loved this book. Yes, there are cheesy parts -- one scene in particular made me think of High School Musical's level of all-in-this-together cheese. But, you know, cliches are cliche for a reason. Maya's gung-ho, fighting attitude is something to aspire to, and her growing confidence over the course of her experiment is a good reminder that yes, we can change our situation. Yes, we can change ourselves. Yes, it is possible.

I know, I know. I'm getting sentimental just talking about this book. But it's good! So good! So wonderful! Maya Van Wagenen, you are incredible and your book is awesome.

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