Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek



Title: Popular

Author: Maya Van Wagenen

Publisher: Puffin

Format: Paperback

Standalone/Series: Standalone

Pages: 272



13-year-old Maya finds a sixty-year-old book about popularity. Encouraged by her mother, she sets off to follow the advice in a quest to explore what it means to be popular.

This was a remarkable experiment. The plot is more poignant and touching (and intimate) because it’s true. Everything that Maya tells us actually happened to her. When I read this, I laughed, I was sad (and I suspect that more than a few readers might get teary) and I devoured every page like it was that Chinese takeaway I had last night. The story is incredible and spectacularly written for someone so young and a truly inspiring story. Everyone that reads this book will be able to take something from it.



The narration is personal and intimate. Maya’s pain is our pain, Maya’s happiness is our happiness and Maya’s sadness is our sadness. The narration – told in a first-person diary-style format – gets us as close to Maya as we can possibly be. What more could you want? Not many people can pull off the diary format but Maya knocks it out of the park!



This is a tricky area with a book written like a diary. It’s a true test of craftmanship and can go either way; devastatingly bad where we lose all sense of character or so spot-on that we get a real sense of who these people are through the narrator. Luckily, Maya falls into the latter category. Her grasp of character is amazing and we see all sorts of people – social outcasts, her family, her best friend, her teachers – and it doesn’t matter how brief their appearance may be in the story, we get a solid sense of character. Personally, I love Mr. Lawrence, Kenzie and Maya’s whole family. I kind of fell in love with most of the people in her life but her family are adorable.


Quality of Writing:

This book was written by a 13-year old girl. It reads like it was composed by the pen of one of the world’s top YA authors. If I read it, I would never think that a 13 year old wrote this. It is mature, funny, tragic and most of all, it carries a very important message of universal love and a story that will strike a chord with whoever reads it.



We get to see into Maya’s world – both her home and school life. For a story like this, it doesn’t matter about exposition of detail too much. It’s a memoir/autobiographical piece and the setting is spot-on.


Comparative Literature:

The story reminds me of two other books. Both books carry important messages and change the way you think about certain issues and people. The first is 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher which deals with a girl’s suicide and the events that lead up to her death. The second is John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars. Both books are extremely popular and anyone that’s read them has most likely loved them as I have.

Overall Score:



  • A story that will stay with you long after you read it
  • An underdog that you can’t help but root for
  • Universal themes that will resonate with all readers
  • A REAL story with REAL people that deals with REAL issues
  • There’s a reason Maya has earned my first perfect score!

Books You May Also Like:

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher – another book that will haunt you long after you’ve turned the last page

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green – for another warm, tragic story that will make you think differently about terminal illness



March 31, 2014 · 8:51 am

4 responses to “Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek

  1. bethkoz

    I’m eager to read the book! I could easily have read the original book about popularity when I was a teenager!

  2. It’s such a interesting idea! I rarely get sad with books but you really feel her pain. And the quality of the writing is superb! You wouldn’t think a 13-year-old wrote it! Let me know what you think when you read it 🙂

  3. debi alvord

    I can’t for FedEx to drop this book on my front porch. My guess is that everyone will be able to relate to this story, no matter how old or where they live. Genius!

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