GP Reads—Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen

Hello, dear internet friends!

One thing I would love to do in my lifetime is write (and then publish) a book. This certainly isn’t a new dream for me; in fact, I spent a good chunk of the summer before I turned 19 putting together a book proposal. That particular project was never fully realized, but I still consider the time well-spent.

Fast-forward to today. I’m at a place now where I’m taking steps to make that dream a reality. Or perhaps I’m taking steps in preparation for taking steps to make that dream a reality. Either way, I decided a comfortable starting place would be to see what related YA/teen nonfiction books had come out since I last looked, as that’s the genre I imagine my future book project would fall under. After I gathered a list, I decided to start working my way through the titles. And then I realized I’d like to share my finds with you, in case you’d find them of interest. So today, I’m sharing with you my first pick, Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen.

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Please excuse the barcode covering Maya’s name… Shout out to Lincoln City Libraries for lending this to me!

Popular is the true story of Maya’s eighth grade year, but the inspiration behind it came from a book written—and purchased—long before Maya was even born. That book is Betty Cornell’s Teen-Age Popularity Guide, written by former teen model Betty Cornell and published in 1951. Years later, Maya’s dad purchased the interesting, now-vintage book at a thrift store. Years after that, the book made its way out of storage and into the hands of Maya—and so this journey begins.

At first, Maya simply finds the book “quirky,” but then her mom gives a suggestion: Maya could follow the book’s advice on how to become popular throughout her eighth grade year and write about what happens. Like many a middle schooler given advice by their mother, Maya initially rejects this idea. But Maya, by her account, has never had the experience of being popular; in her ranking of her school’s “popularity scale,” she places herself at “the lowest level of people at school who weren’t paid to be here.” She decides to give the experiment ago.

And go all in she does. Each month, Maya tests out a different category of Betty’s advice. She tries everything from wearing Vaseline on her eyelids to sitting at each table in the cafeteria. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Maya gets mixed results and reactions along the way, but by the end, Maya is transformed—and I’d definitely say that the ending is a happy one.

Maya’s story was very relatable to me. In middle school (and high school), I did have good friends, but I definitely didn’t consider myself popular. And for much of that time, I really, really wanted to be. I thought, misguidedly, that being popular was the key to ultimate happiness.

Looking back on that time in my life gives me a kind of achy feeling. I can’t help but think, Man, with everything I know now, I could do that time so much better. Although I never experienced life on the “popular” side, I can say that over time, that label ceases to matter, but good friendships don’t. Also, the things that help me establish real connections with others—being in the moment, listening, sharing my joy—also make me feel happier, and again, have nothing to do with labels. That all may sound kind of cheesy, but it’s so true, it hurts.

This book definitely ignited that ache, but in a good way. Because—without giving too much away—Maya proves my line of thinking right. She puts the conventional notion of popularity to the test, and in the process, learns what that word really means to her, as well as how she wants to live her life going forward. Which is a lot for any one person to do in a year, let alone someone also navigating the halls of middle school. But Maya does it—and, thankfully, she brings us along on the journey.

So, whether you are a preteen or teen, or you know one, or you just want to vicariously ease your own ache about what might have been, I recommend this book. It’s a pretty quick read—and a powerful one.

xoxo

Marie

P.S. If you have any recommendations for my teen nonfiction reading list, let me know in the comments! Or send me an email at xomarielorene@gmail.com!

The Huffington Post: “5 YA Makeover Novels Where Inner Beauty Prevails”

Hello, lovelies!

I’m very excited to share that an article I wrote was published yesterday on The Huffington Post.  It’s titled, you guessed it, “5 YA Makeover Novels Where Inner Beauty Prevails”  (though it has appeared on the main pages as “The Problem with Our Cultural Obsession with Makeovers”).  You can view it here.  They have published a coHuffPost YA makeover articleuple other pieces of my work, and honestly, it never stops being exciting.

The idea for this piece came from my excitement over a few movies that came out this spring: the new live-action Cinderella and the book-to-movie The Duff.  I am notoriously bad at watching movies; I nearly always fall asleep before the end (or maybe the middle).  But I stayed awake for these two movies, and I loved them.  And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that they have something in common (besides being based on stories I already loved):  they both hinge on a makeover.

I can’t resist a good makeover story; I’ve even tried to create a few real-life ones for myself, with the help of John Frieda Precision Foam Colour in a variety of shades.  But, as with almost all things pop culture, I’ve conflicted by the draw of makeovers.  Is it just another example of the high value placed on appearances?

After digging through the YA stacks, I realized that the truth is more complex.  In truth, the best makeover stories are about personal growth.  The characters may start off with the wrong idea (that changing your looks will fix your life), but ultimately, their choice – superficial as it may have seemed – leads them to a truer version of themselves.

For me, that makes sense.  A number of times, I have tried to change something external about myself, thinking that if I fixed my outside, then I’d be happy on the inside.  Unsurprisingly, it never panned out quite like I dreamed up.  But each time, I gained new insights on myself that I’m not sure I would’ve gotten otherwise.  And therein lies the true beauty of mistakes.

Above and beyond all that, though, I just want to reiterate to you, my captive(ish?) audience, how exciting this is for me.  I was thinking about how cool this opportunity is in the car the other day, and it made me tear up (and that’s before Sarah Dessen shared my article, which just sent me over the edge).  I thought about my 17-year-old self, many transformations ago, who had braces and a purple composition notebook and dreamed of writing girly things that would inspire people.  She may not have truly known how much hard work it would take to get here, but she had enough hope to believe it was possible.  And in their wonderfully roundabout way, that’s what these great makeover stories remind us to do:  believe in our ability to craft a beautiful, genuine life.

xoxo

Marie