Ever since Steph Landry spilled a big red Super Big Gulp on queen bee Lauren Moffat’s white D&G skirt back in sixth grade, people in her town have used Steph’s name to describe anyone who is clumsy, oafish, or generally lame. “Don’t be such a Steph!” is such a common phrase in Bloomville that even the little children of customers in Steph’s parents’ bookstore use it with each other.
But all that is going to change, because Steph has THE BOOK. Steph discovered an old book called How to Be Popular among her friend Jason’s grandmother’s things, and Steph is following its advice to the letter. Once she’s popular, though, how will her unpopular friends react?
I “read” the audiobook version of this, which is voiced by the talented Kate Reinders, who has played Glinda in Wicked in Chicago and on Broadway. Reinders does an amazing job, and I love the fact that I was listening to such a clear Glinda-voice read since one of Glinda’s biggest numbers in Wicked is called “Popular.” While the text on its own is a lot of fun, I think Reinders brought a lot to it and made it more enjoyable than it would have been just to read, for me, anyway.
How to Be Popular is a fun tale of an unpopular girl, her meteoric rise to popularity, and her (unsurprising) realization that popularity is a lot of work. I’m having a hard time articulating the book’s strengths, but it is a good time and the characters and situations are familiar to anyone who went to high school ever. It does suffer from a few flaws. As is true in The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot makes some references that were timely when she was writing but are already, less than three years after the book’s release, a bit dated. I’m not sure how long Brittany Murphy will be remembered by teenagers, and I don’t feel like she was ever a household name. These instances, however, are few and far between and the universal themes of wanting to be liked and failing to appreciate that which we have overcome those problems.
While I’m usually inclined to see it as a flaw, the book’s predictability is actually very comforting. This is a romantic comedy, and we go to RomCom expecting certain things. The girl will get A guy, even if it’s not THE guy, and with this one I saw it coming within the first few minutes. I felt like I knew exactly how it would all unfold, and I was not far off. But that’s what we want with romantic comedy, and How to Be Popular satisfied me.
I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a quick, fun, life-affirming read. It’s pleasant in its simplicity. To quote Giles in the Buffy episode “Lie to Me,” “the good guys are always stalwart and true, the bad guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats, and, uh, we always defeat them and save the day. No one ever dies, and everybody lives happily ever after.” Sometimes that’s the story you need.
[As an aside: I had to rack my brain to figure out who my own high school’s equivalent of Mark Finley, uberpopular but also very nice guy, was. Once I figured it out, it was kind of fun to remember how I ran into him a couple of years ago and realized that my geeky fiance grew up way cuter than he did. Even though I don’t wish him ill or anything. He actually was a really nice guy.]