Wednesday, June 3, 2015


While subbing in a middle school library recently things were rather slow. I had few classes scheduled. The student library assistants took care of the mundane clerical tasks. Students who came in for research were independent and needed little help from a sub. The shelves appeared to be in order so there was no need to reorganize. So....what is a library sub to do? Well....find a book to read, of course.

I stumbled across a title that sounded interesting even though it was nonfiction.  ( I generally don't read nonfiction....just a personal preference.)  The title was Popular; How a Geek in Pearls Discovered the Secret to Confidence by Maya Van Wagenen.  Having struggled with popularity my entire lifetime and being a self proclaimed geek, I was intrigued. Add the fact that the author was 15 years old and I was hooked.

The book that changed Maya's lfe..
This book is a memoir/journal of the author's 8th grade year in a Brownsville, Texas public school.  While helping her college professor father reorganize his personal library, Maya runs across a 1950's guide to popularity. (He apparently picked this book up at a used book store and bought it for a laugh.) Maya reads this book and takes its advice to heart. She decides to follow this
guide through her 8th grade year in an attempt to see if it would raise her from her geek status.

All I can say is WOW! What a transformation this decision brings to Maya's life and, for a brief time, to the culture of her school.  I literally could not stop reading this book or book talking it to every student and teacher I encountered.  What a perfect book study for the right group of middle school girls!  How I wished I had read something like this when I was that age. Could I have followed Maya's example? Not in a million years!  If you think cliques are bad in the current middle school, you haven't lived through the 1970's in small town me!

And this book stayed with me. I kept thinking about it days after I had finished reading it. Then something interesting happened. In the book Maya categorizes the middle school food chain from the popular volleyball girls thru the lowest of the low, substitute teachers. (Regular teachers are rated a 9.) While I was subbing at this school and after I had finished the book, a teacher was scheduled to bring 2 of her 7th grade reading classes to the library. Because these students were facing the state mandated tests the following week, I elected to use this time as a checkout period. That is not what this teacher had in mind for thess class periods. She expected a lesson for her darlings, something that she was not required to plan or in which to participate.  When she learned of my plan, she seated herself at a table in the back of the room and actually folded her hands as if to say, "They are all yours, honey." Her classes' behavior was totally out of control and I could not reign them in. She did nothing to support me or to curb their behavior.  Now this teacher was a cute, perky blond in her mid 30's. Think drill team captain or volleyball team you see where I am going here? It suddenly dawned on me that this was exactly what Maya encountered in middle school and that I was, in fact, the lowest of the low....a substitute teacher.  I wish I could say that I reached into this book and pulled out some wisdom that saved the day and made me the most awesome sub ever but that didn't happen. What happened was that this experience opened my eyes to the fact that this was not an adolescent phenomenon. This social hierarchy exists with people (women) no matter what their age. And few of us are brave enough to step forth like Maya and face it head on.

I wish that my book club was a female only book club but it is not. This book is so worth the attention of adult, ladies book clubs.  What a discussion it would bring about of how women treat each other, no matter their age. Unfortunately guys would not relate.....boys and men have their own pecking order but Maya's solutions would not work and I don't think guys could relate.

So if you are looking for a great read or have a middle school young lady in your sphere of influence, please pick up Popular by Maya Van Wagenen. I personally guarantee that you won't be sorry.