Thursday 14 December 2017

The teenage guide on how to win pals and be accepted at school

Popular: Vintage Wisdom For A Modern Geek, Maya van Wagenen, Penguin

'Popular: Vintage Wisdom For A Modern Geek

Sarah Webb

When I was in third year in senior school a new girl joined our class. She was Irish but had been living in Canada for years.

She had boundless enthusiasm for school activities, from hockey to the school musical and she was determined to introduce herself to everyone – rugby players and computer club members alike.

She'd appear beside you at lunch break and break into conversation. At first she was teased for being different, but soon we all realised that she simply didn't care what team you were on or what clubs you belonged to, she wanted to get to know you regardless.

It took a year and a lot of effort on her part to be accepted, but by sixth year she was one of the most popular girls in the school.

To this day she remains one of my closest friends. Reading Popular the teen memoir by Maya Van Wagenen (left), which chronicles her quest to be liked and accepted by everyone in her American middle school eighth grade, made me see how bewildered and excluded my friend must have felt at times.

However Maya, unlike my friend, had support in the form of a self help guide published in 1951: Betty Cornell's Teen-Age Popularity Guide. Using this book, Maya sets herself tasks inspired by Betty's advice.

She pays attention to her posture and tries out new looks. She sits at different tables during lunch break and she invites people to attend the prom with her.

It all sounds superficial but as Maya works her way through Betty's suggestions, she discovers a lot about the nature of school cliques and how they work.

The idea to publish her journey was suggested by her mother, whose influence looms large in every chapter.

Maya is always 'nice'. So nice all the time that one wonders where are the teen tantrums, the fights with her brother, the 'you just don't understand me' arguments with her parents?

Where are the euphoric highs and crushing lows of every teenager's life?

In short, there is little conflict and no dark side in this book, which would have made Maya's journey more interesting.

Saying that, Maya is a likeable girl and by the end of the book I was rooting for her. I even shed a few tears on the DART when after all her befriending, she wasn't invited to a new friend's party.

The overall message of this book – that we are all the same and should all be kinder to each other – is an important one, and this is a topical book to give to any pre-teen who is starting school.

Soon to be made into a film by the Dreamworks studio, Popular may prove to be just as popular as Maya herself.

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