Maya Van Wagenen knows what it is like to be unpopular. She is bullied and has very little self esteem. I can certainly relate to this girl. That was me at that age. Maya discovers a book written in 1951 on how to be popular. Maya is an excellent writer and her mother suggests she follow the book’s advice during her eighth grade year. Maya follows advice such as how to constantly change her hairstyle to keep them guessing, how Vaseline is better than eye shadow and how to wear a girdle. The harder part comes when Maya must try to be more sociable and try to talk to people. What she learns during that rather difficult lesson surprised her and me. I was deeply moved by this book. Maya is such a brave young lady. Middle school is a painful ordeal that must be survived for most people. But that wasn’t enough for Maya. She wanted to thrive! This book is an excellent lesson in social skills and how a little kindness can make all the difference. My favorite moment of discovery for Maya was when she learned, “I wanted popularity; I wanted other people to like me. But it turns out most people are waiting to be discovered too.” I highly recommend this book for everyone from 4th grade and up. Taking the advice just might make your life a little better, not just for you but for others as well. I laughed, cried and mostly remembered what it was like to be 13. It was freaking hard!
Some ideas for discussing with teens:
Discuss this passage on pg. 147, “Maybe real popularity comes from when you take time to listen to someone else. When you actually care about them.”
Discuss how school can be an armpit.
Discuss, “Now I want to flourish, not just survive.”
Discuss when she rambles on about The Hobbit in front of her crush, Ethan.
Discuss page 152 when Maya says popularity has “more to do with kindness than keeping a wiggly backside in check.”
Discuss her relationship with Leon.
Discuss this passage on pg. 183, “I’d always thought I was alone in my suffering, but tons of other people are shy too.”
Discuss her plan to sit with different people at different lunch tables and try to make new friends. Would you be willing to do this? What would your plan be?
Discuss “I wanted popularity; I wanted other people to like me. But it turns out most people are waiting to be discovered too.” (pg. 191)