When thirteen year old Maya Van Wagenen chances upon a book from the 1950s – Betty Cornell’s Teen-Age Popularity Guide, she is inspired to embark on a social experiment. Maya sets out to discover the true meaning of popularity, and Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek is a memoir of her experience.
Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek is funny, witty and refreshingly honest. This memoir is a moving account of a smart teen trying to fit in at middle school, and the photographs bring Maya’s story to life. Although the fashion trends may have changed since Betty Cornell published her Teen-Age Popularity Guide, there is still a universal desire to be popular.
Maya’s middle school is divided into cliques reminiscent of Mean Girls. As Maya states: ‘I fall into the Social Outcast group, the lowest level of people at school who aren’t paid to be there’. Maya has a steely determination and effervescent style which makes her a very likeable narrator. She is also brave; I don’t think I would have had the guts to do what Maya does at thirteen. But as Maya demonstrates, making a change is about taking one step at a time.
Whilst I was reading this memoir, I thought of a quote by Charles J. Sykes who said: ‘Be nice to nerds. You may end up working for them. We all could’. Maya goes one step further and she skillfully demonstrates that one should be nice to everyone, regardless of their place on the popularity scale.
I wish I had read this book as a teenager. That said, Popular still appeals to my inner teenager. Maya Van Wagenen’s memoir is funny, charming, moving and reflective.
My rating: ★★★★★