Cara's social reputation was sealed the day she had a urine-related mishap in kindergarten. No matter what else happened, everyone at school saw her as that same little girl. Then her family moves to a new school district and she has the chance to reinvent herself. Guided by phone calls with her best friend Claudia, a scholar of all things popular, Cara is determined to climb the ladder of high school life and emerge as Supreme Populazzi - the most popular girl in school.
I was initially quite skeptical when I saw that this story had a lot of rules about high school popularity (something I'm not always into), but this book hit the ground running and it wasn't long before I could hardly put it down. This is simply a well-written book. There are so many smaller details that I really appreciated, like how Elise Allen had Cara talking slightly differently depending on who she was hanging out with (most obviously with the Populazzi). Cara was, at times, painfully naive, but never in an unbelieveable way. She was a very real character who was sometimes slow to learn the consequences of her actions. And even while making bad decision after bad decision, I still wanted her to come out of this with some peace and happiness.
One of the parts that I can't stop thinking about is how Cara's parents (her mom, stepfather, and eventually her biological dad) acted. Midway through the novel, her stepfather basically disowned her because she had been lying about her new emo-lifestyle (changing into new clothes after leaving the house, wearing lots of makeup, charging all of this to her emergency credit card). I get that he feels betrayed, lied to, and that he doesn't know who she is, but he went immediately to essentially cutting her out of his life. Then her mother blamed her for their marriage problems. I was glad that another character told Cara how wrong this was, because I thought maybe I was missing something. And whether it was genuine or not, neither parent seemed to be open to Cara changing or growing in the least; they wanted her to stay exactly in the box that they've placed her in. And while not in the story as much, Cara's father was also exhibiting questionable behaviour. Who gives a keg to a teen throwing a party and doesn't expect people to get drunk? If you don't want a wild party at your place, don't fuel it with a keg! But don't get me wrong - I'm drawn into the complicated characters who exhibit these behaviours and don't see it as a fault of the book or the author. Parents in teen novels are so often completely good or bad with no shades of gray, and this book practically lives in the gray.
I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
See more at Elise Allen's website.
Find it at IndieBound.
Read it with:
The Lipstick Laws by Amy Holder
Elixir by Hilary Duff
All the Things You Are by Courtney Sheinmel