Review: Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen

Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen

Stuck at the bottom of the social ladder at pretty much the lowest level of people at school who aren’t paid to be here,” Maya Van Wagenen decided to begin a unique social experiment: spend the school year following a 1950s popularity guide, written by former teen model Betty Cornell. Can curlers, girdles, Vaseline, and a strand of pearls help Maya on her quest to be popular?

The real-life results are painful, funny, and include a wonderful and unexpected surprise—meeting and befriending Betty Cornell herself. Told with humor and grace, Maya’s journey offers readers of all ages a thoroughly contemporary example of kindness and self-confidence.

Title: Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek
Author: Maya Van Wagenen
Source: Library
Publication date: April 15, 2014

Maya spends her eighth grade year trying to find out what it takes to become popular. Following a popularity guide written over 50 years ago, she goes through all the usuals: weight loss, hair, skin and makeup, clothes, and attitude. The fact that she follows it as close to the letter as possible is what makes the book unrealistic. It’s pretty clear from the start exactly why Maya lives at the bottom of the social ladder, but someone in that family should have the sense to know that styles have changed in the last half century and that dressing as if they haven’t won’t make anyone popular. There’s a difference between being well-known and being popular. That Maya dresses in pearls, white gloves, and long skirts shows that all along this was more a publicity stunt than an actual attempt at popularity.

Still, it takes courage to actually go through with it, and for that I give Maya credit. She learns some valuable lessons about popularity and what makes her feel popular. Her experiment gives her confidence and enables her to come out of her shell, and that shows by the end of the book. She’s more mature and she’s more ready to face starting over at a new school in a new town after her family moves.

I was going to write about how Popular might work better as fiction, but another review reminded me of Meg Cabot’s How to Be Popular and I see on Goodreads that I only gave that one three stars. Not bad, but not great either. I don’t even remember the popularity guide part of that book, so maybe it’s just a topic that sounds like it would make a better story than it actually does.

Popular is not particularly interesting or well-written, but given the author’s age, that’s not terribly surprising. Sure, some young authors are amazing, but most teenagers are just trying to get out of high school alive. Or their talents lie elsewhere: math, basketball, or singing, maybe. I assume, however, that editors were involved and they should have done something to punch up the book and at least make it worth the time spent reading it. I’m just glad I waited for it until I got a library card. I wanted to read it but I didn’t want to pay for it. That was the right choice.




  1. I was thinking about reading this book. It looked really interesting to me. Its a bit disappointing that it didn’t turn out to be that great. Thanks for sharing your review. <3 Bee @ Bee Reads Books
    Bee recently posted…YouTuber Books: Zoella V.S. Elle and BlairMy Profile

  2. I have been going back and forth on this book. I want to read more memoirs but I am so picky. still not sure if this is the book for me.
    JennRenee recently posted…Waiting on ednesday #135My Profile