Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek


What does it mean to be popular in this day and age? That’s what teenaged Maya Van Wagenen wants to know, and she looks for the answer in a most unlikely place: a 1950s-era thrift store find called Betty Cornell’s Teen-Age Popularity Guide.

Embarking on a year-long experiment to follow Cornell’s advice about beauty, fashion, and social skills, Maya boldly navigates the middle school halls with the aid of some pretty old-fashioned implements like rag curlers and girdles. Not surprisingly, some areas of the guide (health and hygiene) translate smoother into modern society than others (clothing and dating), and the reactions she gets from her peers aren’t always the most desirable. Still, Maya perseveres, and her documentation of her trials and tribulations is at once articulate, funny, and endearing.

Through all of her experiences, Maya is pleasantly surprised to find that some things haven’t changed very much at all since the 1950s. At the end of the day, kindness goes a long way, and Maya is most successful in her quest for popularity when she is trying to break out of her shy shell and meet as many people at her school as she can.

Popular is a thoughtful and winning memoir from a real-life teenager who is definitely going places in the literary world (though probably without the girdle), and it wouldn’t be surprising if it became required reading for middle and high schoolers across the board.

272 pages   Ages  12 and up   978-525426817

Recommended. Molly Crumbley, Librarian, Maryland, USA.

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