Author: Maya Van Wagenen
If you care to think about your high school years, they might be cringe-inducing or they might include the never-ending struggle of trying to get in with the popular crowd. For teen Maya Van Wagenen, when she finds a popularity guide written by a 1950’s beauty queen, she sees the opportunity to make something special out of an out of date how-to. What comes out of this ordeal is “Popular” by Van Wagenen herself, a strong combination of memoir, non-fiction and a coming-of-age social experiment.
Needless to say, the beauty queen’s guide was not quite meeting the standard of 21st century fashion. But Van Wagenen still follows her plan for an entire year of school. She starts in phases of weeks: week one, she does her hair in curlers, week two, she tries wearing a girdle and by week three, she has pearls and white gloves on. Each chapter covers the different experiments and how she evolves as a person. It keeps going throughout the school year and she writes down her observations and comments from her friends.
It takes a turn when she befriends the very beauty queen who wrote the guide, Betty Cornell. When Van Wagenen feels like giving up, she gets into contact with Cornell and tells her of the experiment she is running. She feels as though it is not worth the trouble she is going through. But by talking to the woman who wrote the guide when she was Van Wagenen’s age, she gains a second wind and decides to carry on, no matter what her friends and classmates are saying.
In the end, Van Wagenen does gain popularity, but not in the way you or herself would have thought. Since she kept track of her experiment, she talks with one of her favorite teachers and decides to put her findings into a book. At the age of 15, Van Wagenen is a best-selling author with a critically acclaimed novel. The novel has also been translated into multiple languages and sold to teens around the world.
What makes this such a special book is the voice of young Van Wagenen. Not many high schoolers would write a novel like she has. It’s a funny novel with intelligent observations. Especially with the risk she took, when high schoolers can be ruthless and shun anyone who is different, she stuck with her experiment, which resulted in amazing rewards and outcomes.
I chose this novel because it stood out to me while I was shopping for books (not that I don’t already have enough). Non-fiction novels don’t usually entertain me but this book was enjoyable to read once I started, I couldn’t put it down. It’s a simple one to read, especially for the upcoming winter break. Now that finals week is right around the corner, hopefully it will go by fast. Reading for fun is practically right around the corner! Hopefully you’ll get this book, among many others, for Christmas.