One of my friends from college is a middle school librarian in Texas now, and while I don’t have the time to read ALL of the books she recommends on her blog, I do try and hit a few. (She introduced me to Harry Potter back in the day, a few months before Goblet of Fire came out. I trust her book judgement!) After reading her review of Maya Van Wagenen’s Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek, I put it on hold at the library; I’ve renewed it multiple times since then, but it finally worked its way to the top of my list.
The premise is impressive, really. Maya Van Wagenen was living in Texas when she discovered a teen popularity guide from the 1950s hanging around her house. She decides to try its advice for a year, recording the results. (Since this meant–among other things–following fashion advice from the 50s, it took considerable courage.) Maya has both highs and lows, but she sticks with it, and the result is a book that in NO way screams “written by a 15-year-old.” I found myself comparing it to middle grade novels told in the first person, actually.
That fact that it’s a good book, however, is not the reason I wish I’d read this in junior high. Instead, it’s the conclusion she ultimately draws about the nature of popularity that would have benefited me. Her findings surprise her, but she has the maturity to take the lesson she learns and apply it in a fabulous way, making the conclusion of her experiment a delightful one. I wish I had known at 11 what she discovered while wearing pearls to school; if I had had the courage to act on it, I think my experiences in junior high and high school would have been a bit different than they were.