Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek

Book review by
Kate Pavao, Common Sense Media
Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek Book Poster Image
Middle schooler tries '50s popularity guide in fun memoir.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 5 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Could provoke some great conversations about what it means to be popular. Tween and teen readers may also want to think about how their school lives compare and contrast with what Maya experiences. 

Positive Messages

Popularity has more to do with being "happy and safe at school." You can feel better is you reach out and help others. Most people are waiting to be discovered, just like you.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Maya's a brave girl who's pretty open in Popular about mean things that have happened to her (like getting locked in a church closet by some girls), and also her own faux pas. She eventually learns to be a more social and open person through kind actions towards others -- and she remains loyal to her true best friend through all her experimentation.

Violence

Pregnant girls get in a fistfight at school. There's a photo of smoke from a gun battle across the border in Mexico. Her school goes into lockdown when an armed robber is loose in the neighborhood. Drug sniffing dogs come into her classroom, and kids aren't allowed lockers and must carry mesh backpacks. Maya's teacher dies of cancer, and her baby sister dies of a heart defect. Her other sister is on the autism spectrum, and cuts herself while playing with broken glass.

Sex

Some talk of crushes and some dating. Maya's teacher uses some pretty frank words about body parts and STDs when it comes time for sex education. Maya also reveals what her mother has taught her about tampons. A boy on the autism spectrum tells Maya she's beautiful every time she sees him; a teacher tells her to let her know if it ever makes her feel uncomfortable. Another boy tickles Maya even after she tells him not to, and a teacher encourages her to report him.

Language

One use of "bitch."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek is a memoir written by a middle school girl who, as an experiment, uses a 1950s guide to popularity to see if it can help her rise above the rank of “Social Outcast.” (That guidebook, Betty Cornell’s Teen-Age Popularity Guide, has been reprinted by Dutton and released in conjunction with Popular.) There's some talk of crushes and some dating. Maya's teacher uses some pretty frank words about body parts and STDs when it comes time for sex education. Maya also reveals what her mother has taught her about tampons. A boy on the autism spectrum tells Maya she's beautiful every time she sees him; a teacher tells her to let her know if it ever makes her feel uncomfortable. Another boy tickles Maya even after she tells him not to, and a teacher encourages her to report him. Pregnant girls get in a fistfight at school. There's a photo of smoke from a gun battle across the border in Mexico. Her school goes into lockdown when an armed robber's loose in the neighborhood. Drug-sniffing dogs come into her classroom. This book could provoke some great conversations about what it means to be popular. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byNeversideFaerie August 10, 2017

We need more books for teenagers like this!

I am really impressed with this unique, honest memoir of a real teenage girl's life. The story is warm, funny and heartfelt, but I wouldn't recommend... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old June 13, 2014

Popular

Maya is at the bottom of the social ladder until one day when her parents give her an old copy of Betty Cornell's Teen Age Popularity Guide. Maya decides t... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byXinaTurtle August 17, 2015

Amazing, enchanting book

I believe that this book is just amazing. Every girl should read this before starting middle school or really while in elementary school.

What's the story?

Maya is a self-described "Social Outcast" at her middle school in Brownsville, Texas. When she comes across a guide to popularity written in the 1950s, she decides to follow the advice written by a young model -- including wearing pearls, a girdle, and even planning a social event -- to see what will happen to her social world. Along the way, she answers her initial question -- "Can popularity advice from half a century ago still be relevant?"-- in a sweet and heartfelt way.

Is it any good?

POPULAR: VINTAGE WISDOM FOR A MODERN GEEK has a fun premise, and sweet, smart, sensitive Maya is a girl lots of tween and teen readers can relate to. Her crazy antics -- like wearing a girdle to school! -- will leave readers laughing. But they'll also be touched by some of the personal details she shares: She feels overwhelmed on the her dead sister's birthday, and also when a beloved teacher dies; her school is on the border with Mexico and students face lockdowns and searches from drug-sniffing dog; kids and adults often say hurtful things to her -- and she also catches herself saying inane things to them!.

Readers get a clear look at Maya's home and school life, and understand that while both can be hard, she sees what's special about them, too. It's these great details and Maya's authentic voice that make her realization that "most people are waiting to be discovered too" both believable and poignant. Some may find the original 1950s advice about watching your figure a bit old-fashioned and even offensive, but lessons about holding yourself with confidence and -- especially --  reaching out to other people, will make a bigger impression on readers, as they do on Maya. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about popularity. What does it truly mean to be popular? 

  • The guidebook Maya uses encourages girls to watch their weight and think about how other see them physically. What do you think of this advice? 

  • Which of Maya's experiments would you be willing to try? And which would you never, ever do?

Book details

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