Hey y’all! I’m super excited to bring you an interview by the wonderful Jackie Bardenwerper, author of Populatti, a book that completely details what it means to be a teen in this tech-filled world. Let’s get this review out of the way, then we can chat with Jackie.
What You Should Know: ePub, YA, 5 days
What It’s About: Getting in is hard. Staying in is harder…
Joining social network Populatti.com let sixteen-year-old Livi Stanley trade her awkward middle school past for the social life of her dreams. Because Populatti isn’t just a social network. It’s a club, providing access to friends. Parties. And Livi’s crush, star baseball player Brandon Dash. Yet lately, online rumors have been threatening Livi’s place in the group. And not even her friends are doing much to stop them. Leaving Livi to prove them wrong, and fast.
Before her life as a popster is over.
Why I Chose This Book: I got this book as a review copy, but that in no way has affected my review. It sounded awesome and if I didn’t get it, I was definitely going to buy it. However, I did get a small prize for being one of the first 50 reviewers on Good Reads and Amazon!
What I Liked: Pretty much everything. I loved Livi, went back and forth on her friends, and totally understood what she was going through. In high school, tiny moments can be blown into ridiculous proportions in just a few words. Having been through a situation in which that happened, I can completely identify with Livi. I also LOVED the ending! I feel like it taught a lesson you don’t normally see in these kinds of books, but really need to see.
What I Didn’t Like: Not much. I’ve seen people complaining that the parties are unrealistic with very little in the drugs/alcohol/sex area, but it was explained. When you’re in the elite society that the website creates, image is everything and you have to keep your wits about you. From the beginning, we see how one little ‘teenagery’ act brought everything around these characters to a social apocalypse. I can see how other readers could be frustrated with this, but I thought it was a completely realistic viewpoint. It also showed how women tend to have more difficulty keeping a good image: the girl in the scandal is completely wiped out while the guy suffers little to no consequences, despite his reputation of being a player and hers of being a pristine role model. I loved that.
Ratings and Recs: Great for people that love high school stories and hot button topics. Also, if you read the Gossip Girl or The Clique books, you’ll probably like this.
Final Thoughts: Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I’ll definitely be buying a physical copy for my collection at some point. I thought it made some really good points, and I can’t wait to read more from Jackie.
Now to the interview!
- What inspired you to write Populatti?
The story first came to me when I learned about the dating website www.beautifulpeople.com back in 2010. It was about how you had to be voted into the site and could be voted out if your looks changed and the community decided you were no longer beautiful. It sounded terrible – and very much like something high school kids might do! So I adapted it to a high school setting while drawing on some of my own experiences with social media as well.
- If there was a website like Populatti when you were in school, how would it have affected your life?
Oh gosh, I think that if there had been a site like Populatti around when I was in high school, it would have definitely led to a lot of stress.
When I was in high school, the internet was still fairly new and the closest things we had to social media were AOL Instant Messenger and these Geocities pages (Geocities – yes, I’m dating myself. For the 99% of you who don’t know I’m talking about, it was a site that let you create web pages, similar today to a blog). I was very into AIM and remember spending hours gossiping with friends, analyzing comments from guys, and laughing about what some of them posted on Geocities. Sometimes parties and events would be mentioned on these pages (how very Populatti!), and I vividly remember how I would get so excited reading about an event I’d attended, yet feel extremely left out when I’d read about a party I never knew was happening.
In high school, that desire to belong is so strong that any group or website that draws attention to group distinctions is dangerous. While I’d like to think that my high school self would have been disinterested in a site like Populatti, I fear I definitely would have wanted to apply for membership.
But then, I don’t know if I would have been voted in! Most of my high school career was spent focusing on academics and sports. And as much as I enjoyed having friends in all sorts of crowds, at the end of the day, school always came first.
- I loved the twist at the end, it really showed that you can’t destroy an idea, you can only overcome it. Was that always the ending?
Actually it was not. Now I know there has been a lot of talk about the ending, and without giving too much away, I will say that the original ending was probably much more like what a lot of readers were looking for and would expect from me, especially if they read my first novel, On the Line. The ending was neat and tidy and even included an epilogue, ensuring all loose ends were tied with a pretty bow.
But the more I kept reading it, the more I knew it felt wrong. Because it didn’t feel real. Given Livi’s personality, I didn’t see her getting overly dramatic, and I didn’t see everything with her friends instantly working out either. So I decided to leave things a little messier, because, well, that’s life. Relationships aren’t easy, and situations are rarely black and white. Which is why the crossroads Livi was faced with presented challenges and consequences regardless of the path she chose. And why, in the end, Livi had to look not at her friends or the website but at herself for answers. Leading her to acknowledge that you can never destroy every temptation or bad idea, but you can be true to your own conscience. Livi might not have chosen the path everyone else would have, but she made the decision herself and grew stronger throughout the process.
- Which is your favorite character?
This is really hard! Sammy was the most fun to write, even if she may not be who I’d choose to have as a friend in real life. I think I related most with Val, and would definitely be looking to join the softball team if I were at Golden Hill High. But then, I really grew to love Livi. We really bonded throughout the revision process as I got to see past her insecurities to her empathy and desire to be a good kid. After spending so much time bringing her to life, I’d have to say she is my favorite. Even if I do wish she would stop complaining about her thighs!
- What is the first book you remember reading and has it impacted your life?
The first real chapter book I remember reading was Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I still remember getting the entire Little House on the Prairie boxed set for Christmas one year, and retreating to my bedroom almost immediately to start reading. There were probably tons of more exciting presents under that tree, but for me, those books were priceless. They transported me to another world, and really gave me an appreciation of literature (and the West!). Their impact on me has been profound. They sparked my love affair with reading, got me interested in writing, and helped create my habit of carrying around a book wherever I go (who knows where you can sneak in a few seconds of precious reading). Whenever I think back to the beginning of my writing career, I think back to that Christmas morning. And to how lucky I was to have parents who always encouraged reading from a very young age.
- Did you enjoy writing a book on such a current topic? Would you consider writing another one? (I hope you say yes!)
Yes! I found it to be a lot of fun. The best part for was that while I was writing about a current topic, the book’s premise was pure fiction. By creating Populatti.com and not focusing on Facebook or some other real social network, I was free to explore the issue without the confines of what exists today. I found this to be liberating and a lot of fun. And I would definitely love to tackle another current topic in the future.
- What’s your writing routine? Do you have to keep any snacks or music on hand?
My writing routine is really not too routine at all. I write at night after my daughter goes to bed, but the time I start and stop can vary widely depending on what’s on my plate on that specific day. I usually do not listen to music while writing, but will listen to a lot of music when thinking about a work-in-progress, particularly when I’m out jogging. Oh and I absolutely cannot write when hungry. My go-to snack is usually ice cream. Right now my favorite flavor is Moose Tracks, but I rotate between that and Mint Chocolate Chip, Cookie Dough and Chocolate Fudge Brownie.
- What advice do you have for blossoming writers?
Write, write, write! The more you write, the better your writing will become. Don’t be afraid to try writing lots of different ideas and then to run with the one you connect with the most. Also, reach out to other writers. Find a local writing group or even an online community where you can share your work, give and receive critiques, and just talk about writing in general. I have found the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators to be a great asset when it comes to connecting with other writers, as well as many blogs and resources from Writer’s Digest.
And my most important advice? Just don’t give up. Writing can be lonely, challenging, and a huge time commitment. But if it is what you love, then keep going. Because it is always worth it to pursue something you love!
- Did you always want to be a writer?
I always wanted to write, and can still remember wanting to be a writer way back in elementary school when I would spend my recesses working on creative writing assignments. That said, I did want to be a lot of other things while growing up as well – a veterinarian, marine biologist, pediatrician, journalist. But in the end, my love of writing was always strongest. And I found that by being a writer, I could explore all these other interests and more. Which is probably why a lot of my writing focuses on animals and the beach.
10. Lastly, If you could tell the readers of Populatti one thing, what would it be?
Beware of members-only websites! Just kidding. Really, it would be to remember that while your online presence can be important, it is what you do offline that matters most. And that much of what you see others posting online often is a façade anyway. The real path to happiness is accepting who you are and being proud of your accomplishments, regardless of what others say or think. There will always be new technologies out there that can be used to hurt people, but they can be used for good as well. The key is not becoming dependent on them, or on the opinions of others. So get out there and live life with your phone safely tucked away. The internet will be there waiting, whenever you decide to sign on.
I can’t be the only one who loved the thought that went into her answers. Let me know in the comments: Have you read Populatti? What did you think? Are you going to run out and get a copy? Do you have any replies or comments to some of Jackie’s answers?