I just finished Meg Cabot’s How to Be Popular, about a high school girl who finds an old book detailing how to be more popular and uses the tips contained therein to almost ruin her life until she realizes that she’s happier with her current friends and station in life. There’s a nerd boy who turns out to be just right for her and a popular boy who turns out to be a shallow jerk and the world rolls merrily along. I don’t mean to paint the book as boring – It’s not. Meg Cabot really could make a grocery list entertaining, and there are some really fun details in this book that set the lead character apart from generic leading women. Cabot’s women/girls are smart and funny and well capable of getting along just fine without a man. They also aren’t immune to a nice set of abs, but they aren’t going to settle for cute without nice, funny, and smart.
How to Be Popular reminded me of one of my favorite books from when I was young, succinctly named The Alfred G. Graebner Memorial High School Handbook of Rules and Regulations: A Novel, by Ellen Conford. Man, I loved Ellen Conford’s books. Just like Meg Cabot, Conford wrote Young Adult books that followed the standards of Young Adult, while twisting the genre enough to make you feel like more of a grown-up by reading them.
The Alfred G. Graebner Memorial High School Handbook of Rules and Regulations: A Novel features Julie, a high schooler trying to get through the year. She’s a straight man in a sea of absolute lunatics. The student handbook talks about the importance of joining school clubs, so she tries to get her poems published in the school literary magazine, but the editor dismisses her efforts as too sunny, too conventional. She finally manages to write some piece of drivel that gets him truly excited, (if I recall correctly, it was about black and death, and the torture of the soul.), and when he wanted to publish it, she snorted at him and took the poem back. At a time when most Young Adult characters were simpering saps, Julie was a real person you wanted to be friends with.
Cabot is always a fun read - I’ll stand in line to buy anything she’s writing – but you should try and track down one of Ellen Conford’s YA books. I’m going to start rebuilding my collection right now.