Review: Popular 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.


This is a book I’ve seen around a bit but hadn’t picked up because it didn’t look like something I’d enjoy. I mean, a memoir? Please. But Penguin Teen Australia hosted their #PTALive event and I finally caved and grabbed it.

I was pleasantly surprised.

This whole book is a social experiment Maya started when she was twelve to answer the question, “Can just anyone be popular?”. When I was twelve, I was listening to bad music and trying to keep my younger siblings from killing each other. There’s no way I would have had the guts or initiative to try out something like this. What Maya and I did have in common (and probably everyone on earth feels it around this age) is a pretty intense need to fit in.

The best thing about this book, and Maya’s writing style, is how honest and vulnerable she is. During her experiment she faces name calling, snide comments, and even teachers asking her if there’s something wrong. It’s enough to send any pre teen back into the hole they crawled out from but she pushes through.

This book met all of my expectations on what I hoped it would be. Light hearted, fun, emotional, and super interesting. The more I read, the more I wanted her experiment to be a success. I was well and truly on team Maya.

Did she succeed? I’m not telling. But I’ll be holding on to this one until my kids are at that horrible age.

4.5 stars

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