Popular: A Memoir, Reviewed by Chloe Kerns, 12

Book Reviews  /   /  By Sarah Ainsworth
Stone Soup Magazine
November 2018

“What are you wearing?” one friend snickered as I sat down on the bus with her. I blushed the color of tomato and looked down at my velvet laced up Mary Janes. “I can’t believe my mom and sister had me wear this!” I thought, eyes watering with embarrassment. Now I would have to make it through a whole day filled with strange looks and hurtful comments. I sighed,”Maybe I could just stay seated all day so no one would see my high white socks that reached my knee,” I thought. For me, this was the most embarrassing day of 4th grade.

In the end I made it through the day with my head held high. Yes, this was not stylish to me and at the time I promised myself that I would never wear anything like that again, but after reading Popular: A Memoir by Maya Van Wagenen, I found a deeper reason for my dilemma and a dilemma that many others also share. I was looking at other people to tell myself I was stylish.

In Popular, Maya Van Wagenen does an experiment where she finds the true meaning of popularity. By following a 50s popularity guide by model, Betty Cornell, she found that self confidence is what makes you really look attractive. Maya realized that she couldn’t depend upon what others had said to determine her worth and purpose. In the end she uses this realization to help others feel the same about themselves. This book helped me look at myself and rethink the importance of popularity.

What are people trying to communicate by what they wear? I also came to a new view of “cliques”. School can be a constant maze of trying to fit in. Maya does a great job of helping the reader empathize with this challenge. This book helped me face my own struggles with the deep desire to be and feel popular and taught me to have confidence in what I say, wear and do.

Maya did something that was truly brave. She went against the social norms by sitting with with different people at lunch each day and wearing 50’s style outfits. She would also wear pearls and put her hair in curlers. She decided that what people said didn’t matter to her. By doing so, Maya reached out to her classmates and made them feel cared about and special.

I finished feeling as if I had passed the finish line with Maya through her journey toward greater confidence and learned more about myself than I ever had while reading any other book. I highly recommend this book, Popular: A Memoir, that follows the true story of this amazing young girl.

Popular: A Memoir by Maya Van Wagenen. Speak Books, 2015. Buy the book here and support Stone Soup in the process!

Have you read this book? Or do you plan on reading it? If so, comment below!

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