Friday 2 May 2014

Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek - Maya Van Wagenen


Maya finds herself sitting at the lowest tier of her high school's hierarchy. She's never been popular but a run in with a 1950s "Guide to Popularity" by Betty Cornell, Maya decides to change herself. Treating it as a social experiment, Maya decides to follow the rules laid out in each chapter every month.

The outcome is surprising to everyone, especially Maya.


When I first saw Popular I was very unsure how to approach it. On the hand, it looked like it would be a fun and easy read, and on the other I felt like it could bore me. Still, I headed to Goodreads to check up on some reviews and was pleasantly surprised to see very high ratings for it. Feeling a little positive I decided to go for it. I guess I was proved wrong. Well for some parts anyways.

Popular is written by the lovely Maya Van Wagenen, who is also the main character in this memoir. She is only 15. That's right, 15. Knowing that, I didn't expect to be blown away by the writing, but I loved that it was easy to read and very heartfelt. I think being a memoir, Maya was able to convey much of her emotions through her writing and I could feel her reaching out to me. A lot of it was very humourous as well, with bits clearly sounding like it's from a 15 year old, but had me giggling. Especially when her class had to do Sex Ed.

Another thing that I liked was how relatable this story is. Although I wasn't much of a "geek" in high school there were still moments when I felt like I was probably one of the lowest ranked people in school. Maya represents the entire community of socially awkward and unaccepted people. Kids who have their own way of thinking, are probably a bit more mature, but find themselves constantly being picked up by the "popular" kids. Being able to make that connection right from the beginning really  helped me ease into the story. It's actually nice to be able to read something that reminds me of my past, something that I can reflect on.

Maya is a very strong female character. Her perseverance and intelligence is really awe-inspiring. It goes to show you don't have to have a lifetime of knowledge to develop the rights views and values. Maya is level-headed, understanding and passionate. She's not about to jump the gun and think that what she's reading from a 1950s book is going to guarantee her a spot that the jocks/cheerleaders table. Instead, I felt like it was more about taking a stand and finding comfort in being yourself.

At first I felt like she was foolish to follow along with a 50s standard of popularity, I mean it is the 21st Century. Yet, I came to realise it was more about doing something you want to and feel comfortable about it. In fact Maya concludes that it's more about going out of your way to do things for others, and being yourself that matters the most. It's great to get people's attention, but in the end you have to be true to yourself. It's probably what I liked the best from Popular - the fact that Maya is able to relay such a strong message to young high schoolers, who probably think social acceptance is the most important thing.

There's a lot of positives that come out of Maya's debut novel. She certainly has left a mark on a lot of readers. Yet, for such a short novel I actually didn't fly through it. I started it not knowing what was going to happen, and while I did reach half way quite quickly, I never had the urge to finish it after putting it down. It didn't captivate me and I did get bored after half way. It picked up and I got to see a few more teenage topics being addressed. On the whole though, I think the effect wasn't as great on me because I have passed that age. I don't think I really worry about those things anymore.

Popular was a light and entertaining read. I got a couple of laughs out of it. I'm going to be totally honest and say that if I didn't receive a free copy of this book, I don't think I would even give it a second look. It's not a topic I would approach and the tagline is not that appealing. Still, I think it delivers a really honest meaning, and should be read by younger readers. I'm probably going to pass this on to someone I think would benefit more from it because I can't see myself re-reading it.

All the best to Maya though, she will definitely go far!

Rating: 3.5/5

1 comment :

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