Popular: A Memoir

Author: Maya Van Wagenen
Publisher: Harper Collins
Star Rating: 4/5
Date Read: April 21st to 22nd, 2014
Read Count: 1
At first glance, it is easy to be mistaken about the contents of this book. A shallow young girl who just wants to be popular? Who wants to read about that? Luckily this book is so much more than that.

Popular is the memoir, yes I said memoir, of then-13-year-old Maya Van Wagenen, who finds a copy of Betty Cornell’s Teen-Age Guide to Popularity from the 1950s in her father’s study and decides to embark on a year-long social experiment where she follows the advice of Betty Cornell, teen model in the 1950s. This includes dramatically changing the way she walks, the way she dresses (the addition of a girdle!), experimenting with her hair and slowly drawing herself out of her shell to widen her circle of friends, something she never thought she would be able to do.

Maya’s voice is fresh and honest, and it is heartwarming to read her journey as she learns what is most important on her quest for popularity. Her whole world opens up in an entirely different way when she steps out of her comfort zone and not only does she learn about herself, she also learns about her classmates and that, social ranking or not, they are really all the same. I admire Maya’s bravery and I enjoyed the writing, and I look forward to what she does next.

A few quotes that stood out to me:

I’d always thought they were mean and judgmental, but I guess I was the one judging before I really got to know them.

Why is everyone so scared of one another?

Teenage memoirs are not that common on the market, and let’s face it, not every teenager has a unique story to tell. But I would love for those that do, particularly if they can write as well as Maya, to have their stories shared. The age of the internet makes that a lot easier these days, I think it would be great to see those stories in print form. Girls like Maya are fantastic role models and today’s teenage girl could learn a lot from hearing the real stories of real people.



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