When Cara switches high schools, she decides that she wants to do the unthinkable, join the Populazzi, the elite group of popular kids at her new school. And she's got a plan of how to do it, she'll "climb the rungs of the popularity ladder" by dating different popular boys, all the way to the top. Today, author Elise Allen gives us a special inside look at her new YA novel Populazzi and which classic novel — and which of the author's own experiences — inspired this tale of dating and the dangerous world of high school popularity. And then don't miss your chance to win this new novel!

I remember the exact moment I recognized the Popularity Tower. I was in sixth grade at a brand new school. I wore too-tight Healthtex turtlenecks, oversized glasses, braces that always had something stuck in them, and I was so desperate for friends I gave up my Capri-Sun juice sack every day to two girls just so they’d pay attention to me for the two seconds it took them to ask.

One morning before class, I was at my desk bent over something I was very involved in writing… which I’m fairly certain was indecipherable gibberish. I don’t remember what made me look up, but when I did, I saw a gleaming foursome at the front of the room. None of them was older than twelve, but to me these prepubescent glowed like Greek gods. They stood in couples: Feather Farr and Ron Ashland; Mina Fisher and Jack Balder. Every one of them was blonde and gorgeous.

I can’t fathom that they were actually standing in front of everyone announcing their official coupledom, but in my memory that’s exactly what they were doing. I remember looking at each couple’s entwined hands, my jaw falling open. These were kids my own age, in my own class, but they moved in a universe that didn’t come anywhere near my own.  

I hadn’t coined the term yet, but I knew. They were the Populazzi. I was not.

By seventh grade, one of the Capri-Sun filchers had evolved into my best friend, and she and I did coin a term: the Popularity Web. We imagined people like Feather, Ron, Mina, and Jack in the middle, with zillions of strings radiating out from them; while she and I were somewhere on the outer edge.  

Things changed over the years. I eventually shed my braces, swapped my glasses for contacts, and eschewed the Healthtex in favor of far more fashionable turquoise stretch pants, ankle boots, and long, fuchsia, thick-shoulder-padded blouses belted at the waist. (I swear, at the time that really was more fashionable.) Though my best friend and I drifted apart, by the middle of high school I found a small group of people I loved, and with whom I felt completely comfortable. There was no doubt I was still on the outer fringe of the Popularity Web, but for the most part that was okay. I had the best friends in the world; I didn’t crave the friendship of the magnetic crowds in the web’s humming center.  

I did, however, crave their notice. Desperately. 

Eventually the at-the-time unfathomable happened: I grew up. I learned to give myself the notice and acceptance I’d craved, which immediately dissolved the Popularity Web. Still, the feelings from that time had burned so deep that even now, if I want, I can run my fingers over the scars and be right back there... which is what happened when I read Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country. In it, Undine Spragg moves to the very socially stratified turn-of-the-last-century New York, determined to claw her way to the top by linking herself to the right series of men.  Undine is fiercely unlikable in the story… and yet something in her quest struck a chord.  

Her New York was just like high school. And while it was Wharton’s conscious choice to make Undine soulless in her climb, I knew a high school girl — especially one facing the trauma of a brand new school — could do the same thing for a very different reason: not simply because she wants to be “popular,” but because she desperately feels that ache to be recognized, known, and accepted by the people around her. A girl like that could make some really poor decisions, but still remain likable and relatable. Toss in a heavy dose of comedy, and the clearly doomed journey to the top would be a fun ride for everyone. Okay, maybe not for the girl herself most of the time, but for those of us who’d get to watch her? Totally fun.  

From that point on, the Popularity Web morphed into a Popularity Tower; Undine’s chain of men became my main character Cara’s Ladder of Boys (a tool foisted upon her by her best friend Claudia); and a dream of High Society became a quest for the role of Supreme Populazzi, the most popular girl in school. The final story is, as RT said, a laugh-out-loud “perfect balance between romance and action.”  I can’t imagine a better endorsement; it almost makes me feel like one of the Populazzi.

- Elise Allen

So what does happen to Cara? You can find out by picking up your own copy of Populazzi in stores now! You can also enter to win your own copy and for more genre news be sure to check out our Everything Young Adult Page!

GIVEAWAY ALERT: One lucky winner will recieve a copy of Populazzi by Elise Allen. To enter leave a comment on this blog post telling us what the "Populazzi" kids were like at your school or email your comment here with the subject line "Elise Allen's Populazzi Giveaway" and your us mailing address. The winners will be announced on September 7.

Tags: RT Daily Blog, Young Adult
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