Published by Penguin Australia on April 15, 2014
Genres: Non Fiction, Young Adult
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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.
Popular is an incredible, hilarious, and achingly honest and emotional memoir about popularity. It asks and answers, what is the definition of being popular? Is it to have the most friends, be the most respected and known at school, is it to be the prettiest or the one that is best at sports?
Maya Van Wagenen’s journey is a real life social experiment and she’s written her day to day accounts of following a vintage guide to popularity – Betty Cornell’s Teenage Popularity Guide. Each chapter, she follows a different part of the Guide, and slowly works her way up to the major changes she’ll have to make. It’s sprinkled with charming photos of her and her family, and Maya’s honesty, wit and bravery shines through her words and her photos.
At the start, Maya is an insecure teenager at the bottom of her schools’ social ladder. She feels fat and ugly and gets teased and bullied by countless people at school. Seeing her transformation into a confident, self-assured girl who makes a mark on her peers was extraordinary. From changing her hair everyday, to wearing vintage 1950s gear to school, to sitting at different tables dominated by the different subgroups at school, nothing is out of bounds in her quest for popularity. No matter how embarrassing it is, Maya is to be admired for her bravery and devotion to Betty Cornell’s advice.
“Maya, go play with those kids over there. They look nice.”
“No,” I’d protest.
“Well, why not?”
“Because I don’t like the other children.”
That statement has shaped my entire life.
The glimpses of the rough neighbourhood on the Mexican border that Maya lived in were fascinating, as a world so different from mine. Mexican drug lords making a deal? No problem. Pregnant teens and gangster members at her school? Sure. The school under threat from an armed assailant? Just another walk in the park.
This book made me laugh (Hobbit monologue anyone), it made me cry, and it made me root for Maya and hope for the best. I absolutely LOVED this book for the inspirational message behind it. It helps us understand that things are never what we perceive them to be and if we take time to find out about the wonderful people around us, we will be rewarded with the same respect and consideration too.
Maya’s journey was an inspirational one, and her achievement of being a published author at 15 is amazing. Her memoir hits home that no matter how impossible the task is, if you put your mind to it, you can achieve anything.
For anyone who ever felt unsure of themselves, this book is for you.
Thank you so much to Penguin Teen Australia for bringing this book into my hands at PTA Live, because I never would have have heard about it otherwise!
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