Maya and her family moved to Brownsville, Texas some time during her grade school years. Maya always felt like an outsider at school since many of her classmates spoke Spanish and viewed her as an "other". She felt lonely and isolated. Her good grades also divided her from potential friends who did not warm up to a girl who showed them up in class. As elementary school became middle school, things didn't improve for Maya. She was just a regular teen wanting to be accepted and liked. She wanted to be popular.
When Maya's father unearthed a vintage book, Betty Cornell's Teenage Popularity Guide, c. 1951, her mother suggested that Maya attempt to keep the advise in the book during her 8th grade school year and to journal about her experiences. Maya agreed to this zany idea. She also decided to not tell a soul what she was doing, even her best friend. When she would show up at school wearing prim and proper clothes any teen would have worn in the 1950s but not today, she would tell people who asked that she was just doing it for fun.
Each month she would tackle a new chapter from Betty Cornell's book and attempt to integrate the advice into her own life. She found herself sitting and walking with good posture, wearing pearls, arranging and rearranging her hairstyle, talking to people she never would have talked to before, and drawing the attention of classmates along the way.
In the end Maya discovered that to be truly popular one has to be thoughtful, kind, and friendly to others, even if that person doesn't reciprocate in the beginning. Her experiment was wildly successful and when she submitted her journal to a book editor it was snapped up immediately. Imagine being a 15 year old and a published author! Class mates got wind of the book and one texted another saying something like, "Remember that girl in our class last year who wore pearls? She just published a book. I guess we should have been nicer to her."
Even though the kids commented about not being nice, this book wasn't a rehashing of "Mean Girls." If anything, it was the opposite. Maya stuck to her guns and her project. She was nice and friendly, even when it was outside her comfort zone and the net result was she not only changed her life, she changed the culture of the school.
I was completely charmed by this book. Maya, who is probably only 15 or 16 right now, is quite a good, young writer. I understand the book has even been optioned for a film! I decided to read it because it won the YALSA Nonfiction Book Award last year. I am so glad I did. I recommend that teens and adults alike read it.
Check out her darling webpage.
Rating: 5 of 5 stars.
Disclosure: I borrowed this book from another school library in the district where I work.
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