Dec 15, 2014

Review: Popular by Maya Van Wagenen

Title: Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek
Author: Maya Van Wagenen
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Publishing Date: April 15, 2014
Pages/Format: 272, Hardcover
Add on Goodreads!

A touchingly honest, candidly hysterical memoir from breakout teen author Maya Van Wagenen. 

"Stuck at the bottom of the social ladder at pretty much the lowest level of people at school who aren’t paid to be here,” Maya Van Wagenen decided to begin a unique social experiment: spend the school year following a 1950s popularity guide, written by former teen model Betty Cornell. Can curlers, girdles, Vaseline, and a strand of pearls help Maya on her quest to be popular? 

The real-life results are painful, funny, and include a wonderful and unexpected surprise—meeting and befriending Betty Cornell herself. Told with humor and grace, Maya’s journey offers readers of all ages a thoroughly contemporary example of kindness and self-confidence.

Book in One Word: Interesting!

If it wasn't for book club, I probably never would have picked up Maya Van Wagenen's memoir and debut into authordom. It's not just the kind of book I would usually read. I mean, the whole concept is super interesting--taking a guide to popularity written in the 1950s and seeing if it still works in today's social hierarchy--but memoirs, biographies, autobiographies, etc., are something I very, very rarely (basically never) read. But I had the chance to read this book and took it--and I liked it!

Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek was written by Van Wagenen when was thirteen years old. Jeez, what did I do when I was thirteen?! (Not write well, that's for sure.) There were a few points where I wasn't in love with the writing, but for the most part it didn't bother me at all. And excuse me if this sounds unintentionally rude, but for a thirteen-year-old this is really, really good. I have to give her props for that because seriously, the writing was pretty darn good, and for writing this at such a young age, brownie points are a must.

In her memoir, Van Wagenen chronicles her final year in middle school as an eighth grader as she tries to, in short, become popular. She follows, just about to a T, Betty Cornell's Teen-Age Popularity Guide, taking all of Betty Cornell's 1950s advice and using it at her school near the border of Mexico. The book is broken down into several sections for each month of the school year, with each section also covering a section from Betty's book, from posture to party hosting. The sections are like a diary, marked by day, and are filled with Van Wagenen's accounts of how Betty's advice is or isn't working, what she's noticed, etc. Throughout the book are photographs, quotes from Betty's book, Maya's own popularity tips, and even a complete ranking of the social food chain at her school.

As someone in the book said to Van Wagenen, girl's got balls, and therefore I have to give more brownie points. It takes a whole lot of guts to do what she, a thirteen year old, did and accomplished. She wore a girdle, outdated clothing (which earned her comments about whether she was one of "those religious people" or homeless), and forced herself to interact with people way out of her social status league. How many people could do that? Pretty sure I couldn't.

I didn't really have any problems with Popular, but I didn't love it. (Though I wasn't a friend of Maya's best friend Kenzie, and my gosh, people were so mean to Maya! I hate people.) After finishing it--and even while reading it, really--I didn't really feel anything. Don't get me wrong--I definitely liked it, and more so than not. But it just missed something to make it wow. However, for a memoir (not that I know much about that) and this being written at the age that it was, this was quite good.

Popular is an interesting novel, and people will see different things in it. When we discussed it at book club, opinions on how social status worked in middle school and high school varied, and some people were unsure about whether or not this seemed realistic. At the heart, I think it shows how different things are seen in different places, and how much pressure there is to be popular. All in all, Maya Van Wagenen's memoir makes for a quick and compelling novel that just might be worth reading. (And she wrote it when was just thirteen!) I'd like to see what fiction Van Wagenen brings us in the future.

Did I like it? Yes.

Did I love it? No.
Would I reread it? Probably not.
Would I purchase it? Already have it, and the hardcover is quite adorable, just so you know.
Who would I recommend it to? People who like memoirs that don't read like boring nonfiction, popularity, and protagonists with guts.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I've been having s-to-the-pam issues, and I wasn't thrilled with Disqus, so sorry about the CAPTCHA!