Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek

Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek

by Maya Van Wagenen

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New York Times Bestseller

A breakout teen author explores the true meaning of popularity and how to survive middle school in this hysterically funny, touchingly honest contemporary memoir. 

“I was inspired by [Maya's] journey and made a point of saving a copy of ‘Popular’ for my sister, who starts middle school this fall. Maybe if I had read it when I was her age, it could have saved me from a world of hurt, or at least put that world in perspective.” —Maude Apatow, New York Times Book Review

Can curlers, girdles, Vaseline, and a strand of pearls help a shy girl become popular?
Maya Van Wagenen is about to find out. 

Stuck near the bottom of the social ladder at “pretty much the lowest level of people at school who aren’t paid to be here,” Maya has never been popular. But before starting eighth grade, she decides to begin a unique social experiment: spend the school year following a 1950s popularity guide, written by former teen model Betty Cornell.

The real-life results are hilarious, painful, and filled with unexpected surprises. Told with humor and grace, Maya’s journey offers readers of all ages a thoroughly contemporary example of kindness and self-confidence, along with a better understanding of what it means to be popular.


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780698153417
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 04/15/2014
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 528,067
Lexile: 730L (what's this?)
File size: 8 MB
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

Maya Van Wagenen is sixteen years old.  When she was eleven, her family moved to Brownsville, Texas, the setting of Popular. When not hunched over a desktop writing, Maya enjoys reading, British television, and chocolate. She now lives with her parents and two siblings in rural Georgia. She is a junior in high school .

Read an Excerpt

And so, I embark on my grand experiment. Every month of this school year I will follow Betty Cornell’s advice on the topics in her book: dieting, hair, makeup, posture, and attitude, among others – no matter how embarrassing or difficult.

I definitely have my work cut out for me. That is if I’m not already beyond help. I am 5’2” with light brown skin that breaks out in acne on a regular basis. I am gawky, slouchy, and just a little bit lumpy. I have non-existent hips and a chest almost as flat as the cover of Betty Cornell’s book. I wear glasses and braces. I do all my clothes shopping at Walmart and second-hand stores. I spend more time on algebra than I do on my hair.

Maybe things will change. Can popularity advice from more than half a century ago still be relevant? I’ll find out. Crazier things have happened, right? Men have walked on the moon and society has found a way to grow square watermelons.

Betty Cornell has become my new soul mate, and I am married to her every word. For better or worse.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Praise for Popular:

“Everyone’s happiness project looks different, and I was utterly charmed by Maya Van Wagenen’s honest, funny, and thought-provoking account of her efforts to become ‘popular.’” —Gretchen Rubin, #1 bestselling author of The Happiness Project

“Maya Van Wagenen’s memoir, Popular, would have been wonderful to read as a kid, and so reassuring to Nerdy Teenage Me. Her year-long experiment in popularity is timeless; the intelligent and humane way she gets to the heart of the matter is uniquely her. Funny, determined, and wry, Van Wagenen has written a wise, heartfelt guide for other kids eager to keep up.” —Rachel Hartman, bestselling author of Seraphina

"Geeky and dorky, but never wimpy, Maya Van Wagenen is as powerful and honest as she is quirky and funny—and startlingly gifted. She’s the real deal, folks, a teenage John Green for the next generation. Stunning.” —Margaret Stohl, bestselling co-author of the Beautiful Creatures series

"An interesting and earnest memoir." —Kirkus Reviews

"While completely appropriate for middle school readers, Popular is even more entertaining for adults.  Van Wagenen is a uniquely gifted talent with a gem of a first novel" —VOYA

Customer Reviews

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Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a very insightful look into popularity. It is well written and fun to read. The lessons learned by this young author are applicable to all ages. It was entertaining and a quick read as well.
EnchantedBookNook More than 1 year ago
Originally I had no plans to review this book for my blog, it was one of those I wanted to read "just because." However, a few pages into September, and I realized that I really should review it. There is a lot of talk about this book, and a lot of different reviews. Anything from praise to the young author whom in the middle of a town with violence, drugs, and gangs, decided to go against the norm to people saying that the book is " emotionally manipulative" or a "publicity stunt" to get famous. I lean more toward the first statement, but there are elements in this book that does scream the later. So here we go........... Something that bothered me right off the bat, was the fact that Maya's dad seemed to body shame the entire family. You can tell that the way her dad talks about the family being fat, has affected Maya, stating she doesn't want to have to sign her name as: Maya "Fat" Van Wagenen. She then went on to say that her dad would be excited that she wants to go on a diet and lose weight. Which, some cringe at the fact that a middle schooler is dieting, but the so-called "diet" isn't as extreme as girls go on today. It's more common sense than anything. However, Betty's book does make statements saying that 'There's no hope for you,' if you cannot go through lunch (or dinner) without sweets, and encourages to 'Keep your chin up and weight down.' While Betty's book was written over fifty years ago, these are the comments along with Maya's experiences that people have a hard time with regarding her dieting. I find it hard to believe this is all Maya's words and experiences, her words just seem far too sweet. I'm sure during editing there was stuff added and taken away, but for her to live in a town with violence, drug dealers, and gangs, you would expect more of a resistance but everything seemed to be as smooth as silk. There was very little "raw" emotion other than in March regarding Mr. Lawrence and in May regarding her sister. There was one point where she felt like she wanted to "die" because she forgot her best friend's birthday. Other than those instances everything was sweet, and it did become sicking after awhile. Read more at: http://enchantedbooknook.net
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love this book, especially for teen readers. There aren't vampires, or older guys, or anything like that. Instead, it has truth. Cold hard, life changing truth. I will never view people the same way. I laughed, I cried, and I found myself in these pages. It's a book any teen can relate to, and that's one of the reasons I like it so much. So, like every good review, I'm going to end it like this: READ IT!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was a great start to open my eyes to no nfiction books. This book isn't really a book about how to be the best its more about teaching that friends are important and never give up!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This boom is so good!!! It has a lot of really good advice and is really funny in places. I love love LOVE this book!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wow this book really brought me back to high school and all the crazy pressure to fit in. It put a whole new perspective to my teenage years, and made me think a little bit about my friendships today.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love this book.  Hope to see more from this author in the future.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"POPULAR" is a perfect update. It will make a good movie. Highly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Cool book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I swear this book has changed me. I want to be social and ask people about popularity. Everyone should read this.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love this book! I read this fantastic book in one sitting, I could not put it down! Such timeless lessons throughout. This young author has maturity and insight beyond her years. The book has humor and the glimpses into her journey are relate-able to young people and adults alike. I truly think that every adolescent should read this book.
ArizonaBoo18 More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. I am so impressed that a young girl would put herself through this experience and then write about it. It was impossible to put down. A must read for anyone, any age who was ever shy, lacked confidence, or wanted to understand what makes someone popular (about 99% of the population, I would guess). It is well written and timeless. I literally felt transported back to my jr. high days as I turned each page and read about her personal experiences. I will hang on to this book for my 7 year old to read when she is old enough to really deal with these situations, probably a lot sooner than I would like.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Never read the book lol
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Curls up and waits