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Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

*Populazzi* by Elise Allen - young adult book review  
by Elise Allen
Grades 8+ 400 pages Harcourt August 2011 Hardcover    

Cara is moving, leaving behind her Pants-Wetter image at her old school to reinvent herself as The Most Popular Girl in School: the Supreme Populazzi. Cara’s social climb, however, proves to be far more hazardous to her self-esteem and popularity than expected.

When Cara’s family moves and she attends a new school, Claudia, her best friend and cheerleader, decides that this is the perfect second chance for Cara to take advantage of the fact that no one knows her to not only reinvent herself, but also become the most popular girl in the school. Claudia hands Cara a huge, overstuffed yellow binder - ‘The Ladder’ - which Claudia calls Cara’s “ticket to a new life. The Ladder is how you climb from one tier of the Popularity Tower to another.”

Cara sets off to do whatever she can to get on and climb the tiers of ‘The Ladder’, which includes different “Tower Positions” where you are either a Happy Hopeless, Cubby Crew, DangerZone, Penultimate Populazzi, or Supreme Populazzi. Though you might start on one tier, you can climb into a new ‘Tower Tier’ if you have a boyfriend in that tier.

So Cara’s first step to becoming the Top Girl is to find herself a boyfriend, whom she believes she has found in Archer, a Theatre Geek. Though her interest in Archer allows Cara to begin her climb, there are a couple of problems: she genuinely likes Archer, and he’s just not moving fast enough. The solution is, of course, to ditch him and look for someone who she really isn’t so fond of, but who will keep her moving up.

Cara begins to pursue Nate, the super-cool, super-hot ‘Dangerzone’ guy, with the help of a mildly confused Archer and begins to build momentum in her metamorphosis into Supreme Populazzi as she changes her appearance and draws attention to herself from the top of the Popularity Tower.

Soon, Cara thinks she has figured out the ins and outs of being a social climber and is ready to go head to head with Trista, the current Supreme Populazzi. Cara quickly realizes that she may have made a big mistake, though, when people aren’t all that they claim to be.

Although Cara progresses up ‘The Ladder’ with some ease at first, there is a price to pay for each rung climbed: from the guilt of dumping a guy that you really like, to giving into peer pressure, to humiliating yourself and losing your best friend – your genuine best friend. To salvage her dignity and her real friends, Cara has to forget about ‘The Ladder’ and get back on the path to find her way.

Allen effectively shows how Cara’s personality changes as she succeeds in her quest to move up ‘The Ladder,’ and how Cara allows herself to manipulate not only her appearance but people around her, including her family and best friend. Cara’s innocent and naïve planning and scheming at the beginning of the story is strongly contrasted to her behavior and deceit as she morphs into the person she thinks she wants to be, when she is lying to her father, trashing his house and blackmailing Trista into helping her in her transformation in exchange for keeping Trista’s secret.

Populazzi is an insightful and realistic tale with themes of self-acceptance and peer pressure, related to everything from appearance to sex and drugs, that will make the so-called ‘losers’ and ‘unpopular’ teens in school or society think twice about wishing they were super-popular. Allen shows that striving to become popular, especially when it means shedding your own views and emotions, comes at a high price, and nothing beats being genuine and true to your self.

A rich and satisfying read for teens and young adults. Highly recommended.
Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

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