Paperback (Penguin, 259 pages)
First published 2014; this edition published 2014
Rating on Goodreads: 4 stars
“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.”
This was a light, fun book to read. I read it in a couple of hours – van Wagenen’s writing style is easy to get sucked into, light-hearted, and she is wonderfully down-to-earth. I’m impressed that van Wagenen had the balls to carry out this experiment – being as shy as I am at times, I couldn’t imagine doing half the things that this lady did. Some of the anecdotes made me laugh in shock – and yet utterly respect her for doing them. Kudos to you, Ms van Wagenen. Even more fascinating was the fact that her classmates seemed to think other people were more popular, even when those different individuals considered those classmates to be the most popular – perhaps we should take a leaf out of Ms van Wagenen’s book and start opening up perceived social barriers.
I may have to check out Betty Cornell’s popularity guide for myself, and compare the tips from the 1950s with social ‘rules’ from today, just as Maya van Wagenen has done. If I am honest, I would have preferred the book to be a little longer, but doesn’t everyone, when they find a book they enjoy?
This is a great YA novel, and I think it would suit everyone to read. It might teach us a thing or two about what popularity really is, and whether it’s worth it.