Have you ever thought about what being popular means to you? It’s a phrase that gets thrown around a lot, something that many teens–and adults–aspire to be, but the exact definition seems hard to pinpoint. Enter Maya van Wagenen and her bold project on understanding popularity: spend her eighth grade year studying and following advice from a 1950s popularity guide. Everything, right down to posture exercises and fashion tips, without explaining it to any of her classmates.
Maya writes about her year, with each month dedicated to different sections of the book: reaching out to different people at her school, getting a job, getting in shape and learning how to use makeup. Following 1950s fashion advice, she goes to school in long skirts, hats, and a string of pearls… with a girdle underneath. She writes honestly about her successes and failures along the way, and what she finds out about what she and others think popularity is. The answers turn out to be surprisingly diverse, and not as focused on appearances or other superficial qualities as one might expect. She finds out it’s not about acting like someone you are not. Maya doesn’t change her look, join the in crowd and become a “mean girl.” She talks in a refreshing, non-preachy way about finding self-confidence, and her positive attitude in the face of troubles both at home and at school is nothing short of inspiring.
Growing up as a geek, “popular” was often a dirty word among my friends, a word that divided the “haves” from the “have nots.” I’m glad to read about someone who explored the term with an open mind and came to a few positive conclusions about what it meant to her. Even better, she got to publish her findings in what is now a bestselling memoir, and has already sold the movie rights for it. Not bad for a high school student!
Whether you read Popular and feel inspired to start a year-long self-discovery project of your own, or just enjoy stories about a modern girl daring to go to school in a girdle, this is a fun read.