Popular – a memoir: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen 


Popular – a memoir:     Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen

Publication Date: April 15th 2014

Publisher: Penguin

Pages: 259

Genre/Audience: Non-fiction, Autobiography, Young Adult

Format: Paperback

Source: Bought it

Goodreads . Amazon



From Goodreads:

Stuck at the bottom of the social ladder at pretty much the lowest level of people at school who aren’t paid to be here,” Maya Van Wagenen decided to begin a unique social experiment: spend the school year following a 1950s popularity guide, written by former teen model Betty Cornell. Can curlers, girdles, Vaseline, and a strand of pearls help Maya on her quest to be popular?

The real-life results are painful, funny, and include a wonderful and unexpected surprise—meeting and befriending Betty Cornell herself. Told with humor and grace, Maya’s journey offers readers of all ages a thoroughly contemporary example of kindness and self-confidence.


When I was in high school, I wanted to be popular. I was never really bullied or anything, but I had zero confidence in who I was or what I wanted. But I knew that I wanted to be popular, to be loved. That didn’t work out; I could never talk to strangers nor did I make that many friends during that time. I didn’t realize that being popular had a lot less to do with being “famous” and recognized by everyone (which I sometimes was) and a lot more to do with having true friends (which I not always had).

Like Maya, I even tried popularity guides I could find, but eventually I would abandon them and return to my introverted, flip-flop wearing self (my life changed when I switched from flip-flops to ballet flats, no joke). I didn’t wear makeup or nail polish nor did I shape my eyebrows until I was 20 years old (that’s around the time I discovered beauty gurus). Also, my clothes were always untidy and a bit too loose. Basically, I was a mess. But when I fell in love with makeup and nails (because of all the pretty colors and possibilities), I grew out of my shell and started to feel a lot more confident. I cared more about my grooming, and I placed myself better in the world.

People say your outside beauty doesn’t matter, but I found that when you feel good about your outside, your inside shines through. Or at least it helps a little bit.

I am still a hardcore introverted; I prefer to be alone rather than anywhere else and I don’t express myself very well verbally (as in talking out loud). But I got a lot better. Going to med school and having interactions with strangers on a daily basis also helped.

What I’m trying to state with this introduction is how much I related to and understood the things that were going on with Maya and her friends on this book. I could definitely see myself in a lot of the situations she describes, especially the ones when she feels excluded from the groups, and unsure of where to place herself. This was a very poignant read.

The book doesn’t feel like non-fiction or even a memoir. It reads like a novel, or a diary, and right from the beginning you will think Maya is a friend, telling you her story. The writing is very entertaining and engaging. There’s a lot about her family life as well as pictures, which really enhance the experience. It feels like you are truly getting to know her. And it is not just about being popular or following quirky 1950’s advices. Maya’s life doesn’t revolve solely on her appearance or school status. She has to deal with her family’s money difficulties, with moving to new places all the time and with living close to the Mexican border, drug busts at her school, and her favorite teacher not being around anymore. Also, some things from Cornell’s book are outdated or just downright ridiculous for our time, but Maya does them anyway, for the sake of her experiment. Needless to say, the reactions she gets from people aren’t always what she expects.

However, I would say the writing is more middle grade than young adult. The author is fairly young; she wrote this and conducted the experiment in 2012 when she was 13. Sometimes, her experiences feel a little sugar coated and too easily resolved, which is probably also due to editing. I assume they would want the book to have an overall positive message, especially for young kids who are struggling with social situations. Maya sounds a little too good sometimes, in the way that she is always starting up conversations and trying to include everyone. This didn’t take too much away from my enjoyment of the book, but I thought it was important to point out.

Overall, I really liked it, it was funny and super quick to read! It even make me cry at some points, which I was so not expecting. I can cry with really silly things though, so don’t take this to mean this is sad book, because it is really very optimistic.




“Maybe real popularity comes from when you take time to listen to someone else. When you actually care about them.”

“We all love each other, deep down, and when we see another soul in pain we can’t help but hurt too.”

“I wanted popularity; I wanted other people to like me. But it turns out most people are awaiting to be discovered too.”

“Real popularity is kindness and acceptance. It is about who you are, and how you treat others.”






Yes! If you are a teenager, if you were ever socially awkward, if you want a quick funny read. I would say some people may not like the super optimistic views of the book, or agree with the advices concerning body figure that come from the 1950’s book that Maya finds. But generally, it would probably be enjoyable to most tastes.


Have you read this book? Did you like it? If not, does it sound like something you would want to read? How was your high school experience? I want to know!

Also, I’m trying to improve the format of my reviews (which is why things keep changing), so I would I like to get your opinion on that. Do you like this format? What do you think I should change? Anything that you felt needed to be included or that wasn’t necessary?

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