Cara has never been one of those girls: confident, self-possessed, and always ready with the perfect thing to say. A girl at the very top of the popularity tower. One of the Populazzi.
Now, junior year could change everything. Cara’s moving to a new school, and her best friend urges her to seize the moment—with the help of the Ladder. Its rungs are relationships, and if Cara transforms into the perfect girlfriend for guys ever-higher on the tower, she’ll reach the ultimate goal: Supreme Populazzi.
The Ladder seems like a lighthearted social experiment, a straight climb up, but it quickly becomes gnarled and twisted. And when everything goes wrong, only the most audacious act Cara can think of has a chance of setting things even a little bit right.
Fitting in is a frequent theme in YA lit and Elise Allen’s Populazzi while lighted heart and funny at times also takes a serious look at what can happen when being popular is more important than being ourselves.
When Cara, the narrator of Populazzi, moves to a new school her best and only friend, Claudia, convinces her that she can reinvent herself simply by moving up on the proverbial social ladder of the school’s hierarchy by dating a guy who is part of that tier. Allen spends a good deal of the first few chapters defining Claudia and Cara’s version of school cliques, from the Happy Hopeless (the bottom rung), the Cubby Crews (theatre geeks, wastoids, genuis), DangerZone (dark troubled, fascinating, and above labels) and the Supreme Populazzi (beautiful, confident and admired) and I have to admit that I found her descriptions funny and germane.
Although I really like Cara I spent most of the book cringing at what she was doing. In the process of gaining social status she ignores and uses people who she cares about including the one guy who she really does like, but whose tier will not make her a Supreme Populazzi. Once she succeeds in moving up the ladder, I had a difficult time liking how blindly she accepted her behavior. It was impossible not to see that she was headed for real trouble early on, and I just wanted shake her until she saw it too. Once I finished the book and stopped cringing, I realized that what I was feeling was exactly the emotion Allen had wanted the reader to experience. It is impossible not to walk away from this book and realize that being popular is not as important as being true to ourselves.
Populazzi is a charming and entertaining read with a comical yet realistic look at high school’s social scene. While I knew that Cara would eventually wake up and see just how damaging it is to lie to those around you and to yourself, Allen managed to keep me tense right up to the end.
Source: Received copy for review from publisher