Book Review: Popular by Maya Van Wagenen


Info: 272 pages, hardback, memoir, published April 15, 2014

Synopsis: 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.

First Impressions: This cover is SO CUTE. I love this concept, and it perfectly matches the content. A+!

Why I Chose This Book: This not only knocked off multiple categories in my reading challenge (Memoir, nonfiction, based on true story, author under 30, takes place in home state, etc), but they were the categories I was really struggling to get interested in and find books that fit that wouldn’t be a fight to get through. Besides all that, the idea behind this book is right up my alley. I probably would have picked it up without the challenge motivation. Since I got it for $1 (Thanks Dollar Tree!), it was hitting all the right spots for me.

What I Liked: This book read so easily and quickly. This was a book that I should have read years ago. It could really help a lot of kids feeling invisible with no clue how to change that. It also showed that changing your clothes and look isn’t the most important part of popularity or appearance. It’s how you treat others and going out of your way to bring people into your life. I wished I’d had the bravery Maya did, not just at her age, but now.

What I Didn’t Like: The stylist in me wanted to help little Maya. I wish I’d had help when I was younger (God knows I needed someone to keep me from looking terrible. -shudder-). The secondhand embarrassment was real, y’all. Some have accused it of being emotionally manipulative and having been edited like crazy. But it’s an eighth grader’s diary, so of course it’s going to be super edited? I wasn’t too emotionally invested, so I didn’t see any manipulation on that front. I mean, the beloved teacher getting sick wasn’t really relevant, but it also wasn’t a surprise and therefore didn’t do anything to me. I don’t know, to each their own.

Ratings and Recommendations: To kids trying to break out of their shell, anyone wanting an easy intro into memoirs, people looking for a way to make friends.

4. Pretty Good Read

Final Thoughts (or ‘Book Summed Up in a Taylor Swift Quote’): “No amount of vintage dresses gives you dignity.”

Sound off in the comments: Have you read this book? What did you think? Are you going to pick up a copy?



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