Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Book Review: The Popularity Papers: Research for the Social Improvement and General Betterment of Lydia Goldblatt & Julie Graham-Chang, by Amy Ignatow (Amulet Books, 2010)

Recommended for ages 9-13

I finished this book in a day. It's that good. I also giggled out loud while reading this on the subway - it's that funny.

The Popularity Papers is the project ("Learn/Improve") undertaken by fifth graders that want to be popular by the time they reach middle school. They decide that they will observe the most popular girls in the school to figure out what makes them popular, imitate them and perhaps even infiltrate the group. They record their notes, observations, conversations with family and friends, and drawings to tell the story of their social climb. On the way up, they learn that being popular isn't always what it's cracked up to be, that being popular means different thing to different people - including who you like and who you're not supposed to like - and Lydia discovers what can happen when the quest for popularity goes to your head.

The characters aren't your staid, Gossip Girl-type mean girls. One popular girl plays field hockey and knits; Lydia lives with her divorced mom and sister, who made the transition from pretty, tan girl to dark-haired, pale goth; and Julie lives with her two dads, Daddy and Papa Dad. It's a book that addresses different people and different family structures but it's not cliche and it doesn't come across as being portrayed for the sake of being edgy or different. It's an honest storytelling.

The girls' notes to one another are as hilarious as the situations they find themselves in, and Lydia's journaling when she finds herself in sole possession of the notebook after she and Julie stop speaking is heartfelt and real. Readers will easily be able to see themselves and their friends in these characters and can hopefully laugh at themselves a little more easily.

Amy Ignatow's Amulet web page offers an author blog and links to author appearances, press and a gallery of some more images from the book. It looks like another Popularity Papers book has come out - I need to get myself a copy.

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