Reading level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books; None edition (August 1, 2011)
Buy the book: Amazon
Cara Leonard's family...she, her mother and step-father...has just moved about an hour away from their former home in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Now she is going to be attending a new school where she knows no one and without her best friend from the first day of kindergarten, Claudia. Cara is a straight A student and her goal is to attend the prestigious Northwestern University. As unsettling as a new school was, the move was giving Cara the opportunity to achieve one of her other goals....that of belonging to the top tier of the high school social ladder, the Populazzi. In her old school, Cara and Claudia had been on the Cubby Crew level, which was only one rung up from the bottom. However, the girls determine that since Cara will be starting fresh she will have the chance to remake her identity and personae and move up that all important Ladder. The plan that the two girls devise consists of Cara moving up the ladder one rung after the other.
Archer Jain is the first friend that Cara makes at school and they hit it off immediately. Cara realizes that she could be happy just being with Archer and his Theater Geek friends if her feelings for him were returned. Unfortunately, one big misunderstanding puts an end to any hopes of romance and Cara decides it is time to move up the ladder. The unhappiness that Cara feels leads her into an ever increasing downward spiral as she tries to achieve what she thinks will make her life perfect. In the end, Cara must answer that age old question of just how important is popularity and acceptance in the life of a teenage girl.
As I began reading, I was hoping that this wasn't going to be the usual teen drama---the nice, normal girl meets a great guy but because she wants to be popular she treats him like dirt. Then she discovers that being "that girl" isn't so great after all. I am happy to say that "Populazzi" did not fall into that mold exactly. Cara Leonard is a nice, normal girl and she does meet a great guy but she doesn't treat him like dirt or use him and then dump him. In fact, she would have been perfectly happy to continue to be with him. A big misunderstanding and lack of communication cause them to go their separate ways. Cara then sets her sights on moving up the Popularity Ladder by getting involved with a boy from the next rung up in the Danger Zone. Nate is passionate about two things--his music and pot and he is happy to introduce Cara to both in such a way that she finds herself in his bed on a regular basis. When this relationship has run its course, Cara finds herself in a position to actually become one of the powerful Populazzi, the highest level of the Social Ladder. Now Cara believes that her life will be perfect. If only it were that simple.
This is a story that has been told since...well, since the beginning of high schools for sure. It tells the story of girls (usually) who will do almost anything to be part of the popular crowd. To be recognized by these people and to be seen by the other students as part of them is of ultimate importance. This author has told a sad story of how quickly and easily a young woman can set aside the goals and principles she was raised with in order to achieve "Popularity". I could definitely relate to some of the things that Cara was feeling. I remember very well wanting to fit in with the popular crowd in my high school, to go to the best parties, to have a boyfriend. And high school in many ways is a time of exploration and decision making. One of those decisions has to be where to draw the line and what you stand for. For Cara and the members of the Populazzi there were no lines and they were willing to do anything to prove how cool they were. I know that I am showing my age but the thing that bothered me most was that these were 16 year old juniors in high school. I have a 16 year old granddaughter who is going to be a junior in high school. It makes me heartsick to think that this is what she might be facing at her age. In the end, Cara comes face to face with what friendship really means and of course, she realizes that being part of the Populazzi isn't what life is all about.
The author does a good job of showing the consequences of making some bad decisions. The book held my interest and I wanted to know how Cara would resolve the issues she faces. However, I feel that this story can and has been told in other ways without the use of such graphic sexuality and immoral behavior.
- Sexual Content: Very Heavy
- Profanity: Moderate
- Violence: None
- Other Notables: Underage drinking, sneaking out, smoking pot, bulimia