This is the second book that I have finished from the YALSA Nonfiction Award for the Hub’s 2015 Morris/Nonfiction Reading Challenge. I remember reading about this book earlier this year, thinking the premise was cute, filing it away for later, and then not really thinking of it again. I am so glad that this came up on the Nonfiction Award list, bringing it back to my attention.

At its core, this is a book about a girl who finds a “popularity manual” and follows its advice. However, the challenges and successes that Maya has on her journal make this unique and well worth the read. Starting with the easier (read: less socially interactive) chapters, Maya devotes each month of her eighth grade year to one of the topics in the book. As the year progresses, the chapters grow more difficult, forcing her to interact with her peers in ways that she never would have a few months before. She begins to cross social boundaries and change the way other people in her school viewed those boundaries. A couple of times, a paragraph or conversation felt too oversimplified, almost like an afterschool special (for those who remember them). But always, Maya’s sense of humor would pull me back in.

A few of the quotes that I really loved:

“In Brownsville tampons are seen as immoral. So is using birth control. What I don’t understand is that teen pregnancy is generally accepted.” p. 80

“Imagine Jesus looking out at you trough splinters of wood, broken glass and smears of your little sister’s blood. Merry Freakin’ Christmas.”  p. 103

“This is not the time for crying.  This is the time to remember that I’m the protagonist in my own story, facing every challenge with grace and wit.” p. 114

Title: Popular
Author:Maya Van Wagenen
Pages: 272
Age level: YA (This one is particularly appropriate for the younger YA crowd.)
Illustrated: No
Who I would give this book to: My nieces, but they aren’t quite old enough yet. Sixth grade me.
Setting: Brownsville, Texas. A small town on the Mexican border.
Favorite Character: Maya is the obvious answer here, as the book is about her. It’s the right answer as well, because Maya is a perfect role model. She’s courageous, and realistic, and determined, and flawed, but trying. And honest.
Favorite Moment: A (minor?) spoiler, so highlight at your own risk: Ok, there are really two parts. First, the way that Maya really went all in after finding out she was moving, instead of abandoning the project. Second: Her decision to try to get everyone to the dance and persistence in getting everyone to interact once there. 
Rating: 3.5 stars
Book Source: Public Library