November 30, 2006

In the Spotlight: Popular

This book is a 2006 Cybil Award Nominee for YA Fiction.

Stephanie Landry is DYING to be something other than what she is, that is, the dust at the bottom of the heap.

She hates being unpopular, and has been grossly unpopular, ever since that unfortunate incident in middle school with the Super Big Gulp and an obscenely popular girl's white skirt. Since that was, like, five years ago, Steph sees no reason for her apparent unpopularity to further cloud her life. She's got a secret weapon -- an old 1930's book called How to be Popular that she found in her best friend Jason's grandma's attic.

It's a step-by-step DIY manual that's got to work. Even though Becca and Jason are her two dearest friends, Steph wants her life to be more than people-watching and star-gazing with the pair of them. When's it going to be her turn to shine?

So, Steph reads the book, and contrary to the disbelieving stares of Becca and Jasons... it .... works.

For a minute.

Sort of.

But the thing about being top of the heap? It takes a bit of work to stay there.

This was a quick, fun, fluffy read, taking the big-picture of high school politics and paring it down to a week in one life. Some of the novel seemed a bit implausible to me -- I find it difficult to swallow that an entire town would still be taking to task a girl for a single mistake; I can't imagine adults saying "Well, you pulled a Steph Landry!" and not questioning the roots of the statement. Nor do I really believe that an entire school would be Borg enough to follow one girl's lead for so long. Surely there were people who couldn't care less about Lauren and her crowd, and were popular enough in their own. Also, popularity is set out as a hugely negative, shallow, flippant, deceitful and worthless thing though in truth popularity, and the people who are popular, are not always that way. It was quite predictable that these negative characteristics would never have been to what the main character aspired, so it was obvious she would end up un-popular. I would have been interested in seeing at least one or two nice popular people who weren't bimbettes like Darlene! However, the book is told from Stephanie's point of view, so her narration -- like her character -- isn't entirely balanced or trustworthy.

Meg Cabot is the queen of the quick wish-fulfillment YA fantasy-fiction read, and here she's done her stuff again.

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