by Maya Van Wagenen Published by Penguin
on April 15th 2014 Genres: Coming of Age
, Young Adult Goodreads Buy The Book: Amazon Barnes & Noble
A touchingly honest, candidly hysterical memoir from breakout teen author Maya Van Wagenen. 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.
After skyping Maya Van Wagenen, I got the opportunity to interview her for Real Rad Reads. She’s a sweet, talented, role-model for teenagers everywhere, and I’m proud to say I was able to work with her and that she taught me the true definition of popularity.
Enjoy the amazing voice of Maya as she answers interview questions below, but also be sure to check out Popular: Vintage Wisdom for the Modern Geek, especially since it publishes in paperback today!
- Who do you consider to be a role model for girls in our society today?
Maya: I think there are a lot of incredible role models for teenagers, but not all of them are celebrities. There are amazing volunteers, artists, and entrepreneurs who I draw inspiration from. I think so much of figuring out who you are is discovering your own role models, the people who exemplify qualities and skills that you’d like to develop.
2. Do you have any more projects you are currently working on? Are they teen reads, or something else entirely?
Maya: I’m writing a young adult novel right now. It’s very different from Popular, but I’m having a lot of fun working on it. There’s definitely something special about the YA genre. It allows you to tackle big issues in a way that focuses on growth, change, and personal development. Those were always the books I fell in love with, and those are the books I want to write.
3. Who do you want to star in the Popular movie? In what scene do you want to have a cameo?
Maya: I get asked this first question a lot, but I don’t really have an answer. For me, the most important thing is that the roles go to those who are best for the parts, be they unknowns or established actors. As far as a cameo goes, I really want to appear in one of the school scenes, preferably as someone who says something mean to “Maya”. I think that would be a rather ironic twist.
4. What was the initial reaction of your classmates when your book was published?
Maya: I didn’t tell anyone about the book deal for a while. I didn’t want it to change the relationships I’d created during my first year-and-a-half of high school. Inevitably, though, the information spread and pretty soon it felt like the whole school knew. I got stopped in hallways, pointed at, called to. It was kind of scary because it wasn’t the kind of popularity I’d sought for during the Betty Experiment. But it really didn’t change the way my close friends saw me, and I’m thankful for that. They’re very supportive but they still see me as the same person.
5. What is your definition of popularity, and who in today’s world models your definition?
Maya: For me, popularity is based on being yourself, on presenting yourself in a way that makes you feel confident, and being kind and inclusive. I admire Taylor Swift and Lorde for their ability to laugh at themselves, their incredible kindness and generosity, and their humility. They manage to take their fame in stride and haven’t let it change their personalities.
I hope you enjoyed Maya’s words just as much as I did. Please share this post with any teenage girl in your life, and if you are a teenage girl, keep the true definition of popularity close to your heart always.