Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Book Review: Popular- A Memoir by Maya Van Wagenen

Pages: 259
Genre: YA Non-fiction
Australian Release Date: 15 April 2014
Publisher: Penguin
Sent to me for review.
Price: $16.99

A true story
'School is the armpit of life - and my school is no exception.'
From hair-dos and girdles to pearls and posture, Maya does whatever Betty says - no matter how difficult or embarrassing.
When Maya Van Wagenen finds a 1950s Guide to Popularity she embarks on a unique social experiment: for one school year she follows the advice of its author, teen model Betty Cornell.
She's determined to see her experiment through, for better or worse.
When this book came in the mail I was so pleased. The cover and the caption "Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek" are so ME. I guess it's kind of an understatement to say that I really was excited to crack this book open... I didn't really know what to expect, yet my expectations were naturally high. Was this book everything I hoped it would be?

The author's inscription(I hope that's the right term) reads "To all those who've sat alone at the edge of the playground. This book is for you". I'm sure every person must have felt this way at some point, some more than others. This definitely made me want to read the book more.

Because the book is a "true story" and is told through journal entries it's a little hard for me to review it. Sure there is writing style, the writer's outlook on things, the analysis about what it is to be "popular" and the positioning, but I can't review the plot or the characters, And non-fiction (no matter how interesting) is not usually something I read... This book is also probably a little younger than what I would usually read. On the press release it says "11yrs +" and the main character is turning thirteen in the story. (The author is now fifteen years old). This is such a great feat for such a young author!

I think what Maya did was awesome and took some guts. Turning your non-existent social life into an experiment like that... Wow. I especially liked that the self-help book she used for her experiment was from the 1950s. The vintage nerd in me thought that was absolutely awesome and I loved reading excerpts from Betty Cornell's book (I am seriously considering buying it now that it has been re-released). I'm sure all of the vintage gals following my facebook page may find this aspect of the 'Popular' to be super-duper cool too. It was really interesting to see how Maya interpreted the advice in Betty's book and also how that translated in the real world.

Maya is so honest in this book. It was like a real journal. Though it was well written and obviously a lot neater. I think Maya really captured the adolescent angst of a thirteen year old girl and that she was extremely brave publishing her private thoughts for the world to see. Ill-fitting undergarments, crushes, skin problems, bad hair days and body image issues are all included in 'Popular'. I think most girls/women can relate to this and will find some of Maya's own popularity tips to be quite charming and sometimes funny.

I thought it was really interesting to learn about Brownsville, Texas. I have never really thought about what life was like on the border of Mexico and how dangerous it would be. It was also interesting to learn about Maya's family and to see how she managed to follow the guide book on a low income.

The one thing I wasn't really happy about was the ending. Not so much what did or didn't happen, because it's not like Maya can choose that. I guess I just didn't really like the conclusion that she came to about popularity (or rather making friends). I'm not saying it isn't true, but I just wonder how much this was influenced by the environment and other circumstances (must not spoil events...).

Overall, I gave this book a 4 out of 5 stars. While I really enjoyed the book and read it really quickly it is not my favourite genre and it was one YA book that definitely felt young (almost too young- and I read YA all the time). I also wasn't in love with the ending. I know these are all things that Maya can't control so I feel bad for marking a book down based on these things. Especially seeing as Maya has done such a brave and awesome thing by writing this book and doing this whole experiment. I would recommend this to anyone who is looking for something decent to read and especially those vintage enthusiasts that will know all to well what it is like to be wear a 1950s outfit in a 2012 world.

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