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Populazzi by Elise Allen


by Elise Allen

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Ever since an unfortunate pants-peeing incident in kindergarten, Cara and Claudia have been best friends and social outcasts. They would love to be among the populazzi, the highest social tier in high school, but know that they have no chance of overcoming the social stigma of being a pants-wetter. When Cara's family moves to another Philadelphia suburb, Claudia informs her that this is her chance to ascend the social ladder, using her as-yet unpatented method, aptly known as The Ladder. All Cara has to do is date increasingly high status boys until she reaches the ultimate position of Supreme Populazzi. There's no way this could go wrong, right?

Likely, you have discerned that there are in fact myriad ways in which this little scheme could go south, and pretty much every single one will in fact occur, except for the difficulty of not being able to find boys. This is one of those books that is just remarkably painful to read, because it is chock full of dramatic irony, perhaps moreso than a horror movie. (I hate horror movies) Pretty much everything Cara does makes me want to shake her really hard, or at least shake the book really hard and yell at it, except that I was reading it on a computer.

Here's the thing. This popularity drama is very immediate when you're a high schooler, but, generally, by the time you're out of college, you're over it and realize how ridiculous it all was. Because of this, I mostly just felt incredibly awkward and sorry for Cara, while also thinking she deserved most of what came to her. In high school, I was probably on a lower tier than the happy hopeless, but I still would never have gone to such lengths. Admittedly, Cara would not have either, had it not been for the persistent urgings of Claudia, who I hated (despite the fact that she regularly quoted Shakespeare, which is awesome).

However, this book was not all bad by any means. I thought the writing was pretty good, and, though I didn't like most of them, she did write stellar and dynamic characters. My favorite, of course, was Archer, although I also felt like shaking him occasionally. My favorite scenes were almost all within the first hundred pages; Archer and Cara have such a realistic flow to their conversation, which makes them completely charming. They also make tons of bad jokes and accidentally say inappropriate things and play ping pong like champs. I wish I could have hung out with someone like Archer in high school!

I recommend Populazzi for those interested in themes of popularity and the expected messages that follow such a topic. While not my main interest by any means, this was definitely a much better read than anticipated. I would definitely be willing to read more from Allen in the future. Let's get some more nerdy characters, like Robert and Archer! ( )
  A_Reader_of_Fictions | Apr 1, 2013 |
Cross “Mean Girls” and “Never Been Kissed,” throw in a potent dash of TV shows like the new “90210″ and mix with a side of “She’s All That” (oh, the ’90s!) for a taste of Elise Allen’s Populazzi, a young adult novel with plenty of sass mixed with its teen angst.

Being a fan of teen flicks, I had a feeling Allen’s Populazzi would capture much of the spirit I enjoy about those films: the desire to stand out while still fitting in; the pressure to find a boy/girlfriend and keep them; the hope of being liked and understood by a good group of friends . . . these are the issues that devour our energy in youth. And though I’m a decade removed from that time of my life, it’s not hard to put myself back there.

What I’d hoped to find in Populazzi, Cara’s story of rising to power in a suburban Pennsylvania high school, was there . . . if a little less compelling than I’d hoped. Not to sound like a big ol’ prude, but I found the novel’s focus on sex, drug use and changing to ascend a fictional “Ladder” to “Supreme Populazzi” a little unsettling. Though she’s eventually held accountable for her actions, Cara lies to her parents, sneaks around, dresses a “part” and almost sabotages her future by missing a very important college-related meeting. And subplots involving a creepy, emotionally abusive stepfather and pot-smoking ex-boyfriend left a sour taste in my mouth.

Though the ultimate message of the story was positive (be yourself and behave yourself), Cara had to go on quite a journey to get there. I couldn’t help but feel like Claudia, her best friend at the school Cara left behind, was intentionally leading her astray. Encouraging her to make bold moves without having to deal with the fall-out, giving her seemingly ridiculous advice about dumping dudes to “move on to the next one” in the name of popularity . . . well, it smacked of poor judgment. And being mean.

I guess that’s my major hang-up with the story: Cara didn’t endear herself to me. I found her actions callous at best and dangerous at worst. Becoming “emo” to attract the attentions of a bad-boy rocker goes contrary to every bit of advice we’re given when looking for a partner: don’t change for anyone else. And though I hate sounding like a serious fuddy-duddy, that didn’t work for me.

But. Despite my reservations and occasional discontent, Populazzi is an entertaining tale in the vein of those aforementioned ’90s teen flicks. It’s fun. Archer, our male hero, has plenty of swoonworthy moments with our lead . . . albeit their timing is continuously off throughout this big novel. We spend half our time wondering if Cara and Archer will cast aside their squabbles to actually communicate around their epic miscommunication, but I had a hunch — call it readerly intuition — that this one would have a happy ending.

And it did. For all her wardrobe changing, personality shifting, friendship busting and hot guy crushing, Cara ultimately sees the value of doing the right thing — and when given a chance to ruin someone else’s life for the sake of popularity, she makes a surprising decision. I felt a sense of maternal pride in our heroine then — and realized with a jolt that I’m starting to feel maternal toward teen characters.

Fans of young adult fiction and stories where the “mean girls” get theirs will find some humor and heart in Allen’s Populazzi. As the characters often find themselves in pretty “adult” situations and there’s plenty of frank talk about sex, drinking, etc., I wouldn’t recommend it to readers younger than 16. ( )
  writemeg | Sep 4, 2012 |
A delightfully fun, funny and entertaining read.

When Cara moves into a new neighborhood and a new high school her worst fears become realities. Being the new girl in school with no friends leaves her planning every step of her daily school routine, from where to hide at lunchtime to how to look as busy as possible in between periods. But Cara does have has one true loyal friend, her best friend Claudia. However, there presents one problem, Claudia does not attend the same school as Cara. After hearing about Cara’s lonely school days Claudia comes up with a plan called the “Ladder,” which after first giving her disapproval for Cara later agrees to be part of. The Ladder is a plan to help Cara become more popular at her new school and one that at first seems like an innocent game, which seems to be working, at least for a while. Soon after Cara gets comfortable with her new group of friends. her worst nightmare become reality.

Reading this story had me recalling the cliques in school and everything that came along with them. This story took me back to the past and reading it totally had me feeling like a teen again. Not sure if that was a bad thing or a good thing, but overall it was highly entertaining. I found myself at the start feeling sorry for Cara and her loneliness, but later in the story those feeling soon change when she takes her unique introverted self and turns it into an extroverted monster. Which left me wondering if Cara really does deserve what she gets. If you dig deep enough through all the drama in this story you do eventually find some lessons to be learned. Most of which have to do with being true to oneself and not trying to be someone you are not. All leading to the main lesson which teaches, you can attract real friends who really care about you and love you just the way you are, if you just be your real true self. ( )
  autumnblues | Aug 31, 2012 |
I hadn’t heard a lot about this book when I was first asked to review it. I liked the synopsis of it so I went for it. When I began reading it, I wasn’t sure of what I was going to get. Hilary Duff called it “Fresh, funny, and sometimes wrenching, Populazzi nails what it’s like to try to find yourself while navigating the crazy world of high school.” I thought that was high praise for this book at that time but now, I know it’s well deserved. Populazzi was fresh and funny and sometimes wrenching. It was real.

I liked Cara a lot…most of the time anyways. Sometimes, I was frustrated with her actions and the decisions she made. But she and her best friend Claudia are funny and awkward and ready for something new and exciting. It’s something I saw in myself, really, as a high school student who is always in need of something new and exciting. Cara was a great character and someone I connected with. She thought she knew things and people but they came out and surprised her. She made mistakes but she saw the wrong and tried to make it right.

Two problems I had with this book: First, Claudia and her ridiculous Ladder, I felt, were the reason Cara got into so much trouble. Claudia kept on insisting Cara was made to get to the top of the Ladder and it bugged me so much. I never thought I would happen but I hated Claudia a little less when she realized her mistake. Second, Karl, Cara’s step dad. He, in my opinion, went over the top sometimes. He made small things into such huge problems that I had no idea what was wrong with him! And his obsession with Cara’s grades! Okay, parents should be concerned, it’s only natural, but Karl went over the top.

The plot was really great and though I felt it was slow at times, I sped through this book. All the things that happened in this book were things that I’d heard of or seen happen in real life. I’m still not sure how Elise Allen got all these things correct. The romance in this book was awesome. It didn’t develop instantly but over a long period of time. Cara was able to grow as a character and see right from wrong (but she made mistakes too, along the way, which was okay. It’s life people; it’s not perfect.)Overall, I liked this book a lot. It was funny and sad and sometimes I got angry. Sometimes I hated some of the characters for what they did and didn’t do. I can’t wait for more from Ms. Allen! ( )
  KailiaSage | Jul 8, 2012 |
Elise Allen’s Populazzi is, for the most part, a standard YA romance with some truly cringe-inducing slang (the main characters refer to cliques as “Cubby Crews” and the clique at the top of the high school food chain as the “Penultimate Populazzi”). The first three-quarters of the book present the experiences of awkward but likeable Cara Leonard, who moves to a new school at the beginning of junior year and is convinced by her best friend to use “The Ladder,” a system of social-climbing by dating boys on the various “rungs” to become the most popular girl in school—the “Supreme Populazzi.” While the plot isn’t breaking any new ground, Cara’s blossoming friendship with handsome theater geek Archer and her transformation into a glowering emo girl to snare brooding musician Nate are entertaining. By the last quarter of the book, however, Cara has become unbearably Machiavellian; with a hateful protagonist clearly headed for some kind of massive disaster, it’s hard to read through to the somewhat predictable ending. For all her bad decisions and self-serving rationalizations, however, Cara has an authentic teen voice and the book handles issues like sex, drug use, and bulimia frankly but not gratuitously. This would be a good purchase for libraries where other aspirational teen fiction is in demand. Ages 14 and up. ( )
  alexanan | Nov 4, 2011 |
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"Don't you see, Cara? This will be the year everything changes!"
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0547481535, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:57:57 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

When awkward, socially inept Cara moves to a new school just before junior year, her best friend urges her to seize the opportunity and change her life using "The Ladder"--a concept that will allow her to climb to the top of the social order by transforming herself into the perfect girlfriend for the most popular boy in school.… (more)

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