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Review: Populazzi by Elise Allen

By Elise Allen

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Release Date: August 1, 2011

Publisher: Harcourt
Source: NetGalley/ARC
Purchase: Book Depo. | Amazon | Kindle
About the Book:

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.

An all around fun read, I don't think I've laughed quite this much in a long, long time. Populazzi has a side-splitting humor at many points throughout so much so that I think the comedy will be the aspect that stays with me the most, making me smile every time I pass by this book. Cara, Claudia, and others in the book nearly had me choking because I couldn't seem to stop cracking up.

Cara and Claudia--these best friends made this book for me! I can't even totally consider Cara as the star of the show because Claudia was such an active and prominent part of the story. The things these two would say, think, or do... really just reminded me of my own experiences these past few years in high school. The stupid or girly things I push my friends to do with me, the overanalyzing me and my girlfriends do when it comes to boys, poring over the most natural encounters for signs of what the opposite sex involved is thinking. Allen must have a very clear, sharp image of what it was like in high school because she nailed it right on the head with her accuracy. And even though these two girls felt like me and my friends, interchangeable, they were still completely unique. I favor Claudia of the two to be honest, just because of her dramatic (and terribly hilarious), unconscious integration of Shakespearean works into her everyday life. But, don't get me wrong, Cara appealed to me, too. She was my former self--shy, nervous, and incredibly book-smart, afraid to step out of her shell, longing to belong. And because I recognized an intimate piece of myself in her, I relished her transformation by the end of the book.

And their tongue-in-cheek descriptions and classifications of the different "tiers" in the social hierarchy that make up high school was downright hysterical! Watching Cara navigate the tricky halls of high school while trying to accommodate Claudia's Populazzi plan had its funny and awkward moments that roused a number of different reactions ranging from head-desk to embarrassed giggles to bright blushing to goofy smiles. The kind of expressions that take over during my own high school experiences. And Cara taking on boys is a sight to behold, let me tell you. It helped me recall all the stupid things I did to get myself noticed and liked by guys.

Lucky for Cara, though, she managed to find one that was right for her all along. Of course, this book would not be complete without romance. Although Cara interacted with a few boys on this level, there really was only one boy that actually mattered. When it came to these two, Archer and Cara, I can't tell you how many times I wanted to put their heads through the wall. I forgot anxiety-ridden these romantic comedyish novels can be. It was no picnic for someone like me, who gets way TOO EMOTIONALLY INVESTED.

I was forced to skip over certain scenes, mostly because I couldn't take Cara's changing toward the end before the good started cropping up. I felt like I was in Claudia's shoes and I was the one being betrayed, so I couldn't even read it. Oh, and this book actually made me cry! Yup, I know, crazy. But, those tears were a mixture of frustration and hurt on Cara's behalf. I HATED HER PARENTS. Not the I Hate You While I Love You hate that only teenagers or married couples are acquainted with. No, this was pure rage and fury and raw loathing. Her parents, particularly her stepfather, were probably the most ill-suited, selfish, insecure, cowardly, and self-absorbed parents I'd ever had the displeasure of "encountering." I'd hate to be Cara in that respect.

I didn't expect Populazzi to play on my emotions so well or Elise Allen to so skillfully pull them out of me and direct them toward the characters in the story. From the authenticity of the high school experience to the flawed, lovable, TEENAGE characters (hated parents swept aside) to the adorable romance that ended up coming together at the end, concluding the book perfectly, I love to say it: Populazzi was a funderful, hilarious read that I couldn't put down and was so caught up in that when all the funny parts came up I turned heads (I imagine bursting out in random fits of giggles didn't go over so well with people--who, incidentally, MUST've been nonreaders, otherwise they wouldn't've looked so appalled). A perfect summer read and an overall fantastic debut!

"Come on, kids, this is the good stuff. This is Junior English. This is T.S. Eliot. Let's dive into this! What is Eliot doing with his images? Anyone: shout it out!"
I almost giggled when I realized I could now say this twice in one hour. "Um..." I began, "he's making them stand erect?"
"Yes!" roared Mr. Woodward, and this time Archer didn't hide his smirk. "You've almost redeemed yourself for being late..."
"Cara," I said.
"Cara," he repeated. "So each time, Cara, when his images are at the peak of their 'erection,' if you will, what does Eliot do to them?"
There was only one answer, and I wished I could say it without blushing. Still, I didn't hesitate. "He lets the images go flaccid."

I fell asleep counting not sheep but possible opening lines. Claudia must have done the same--I woke up to an email from her with a huge list of options.
"Really, Claude? 'Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much?"
I had her on speakerphone as I drove to school...
"It worked for Juliet," Claudia said. "Romeo fell head over heels for her."
"You are aware that they both die at the end, yes?"
"Did you seriously just ask me that question?"
"Did I seriously ask it, or did I seriously think you didn't know they died at the end?"
"Fine. Forget Romeo and Juliet. Forget the centuries-old benchmark of true romance. How did you want to start?"
I took a breath, then offered up the best of my bunch. "Hey! Do you play Scrabble! 'Cause I had the best triple-word score last night!"
Claudia's silence was deafening. I couldn't blame her. Maybe I'd go with the good pilgrim thing after all.

When Archer and I went to the mall that day, I didn't even mention the weekend. I said neither the words "week" nor "end." I simply channeled all my concentration into the words "invite me," then shot them toward Archer in a continuous beam of psychic energy.
"Cara?" he finally asked.
"Yes?" I batted my eyes. No, really, I did.
"Are you okay? You're holding your head and your face is all scrunched up. Do you have a headache or something?"
"Oh. No. I just... precalc. Hard problem. I'm having tangent issues."
So much for psychic energy.


Elise said...

Asher, thank you so much for this review! I just got back from a trip, and seeing this made my day! I'm so happy you enjoyed it, and elated you were so invested in the characters. Thanks again!



A. Knight said...

You're absolutely welcome. Everything I said about it is true and its just a delightful and fun read! I can't wait to see what you've come up with in the future. ;)

Marathon said...

I can not say how much i loved
this book!!! It had a lot of romance in it and boyfriend - girlfriend
things. I just loved the drama and the ending was perfect!!! I'm 16 and
can totally relate!

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