Summary from BN.com: 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.
When I first started reading this book, I was worried that it was going to be same old story that I've read tons of times before. The one where girl likes guy, there's a misunderstanding, girl tries to become popular to get back at him, it misfires and then the truth all comes out at the end. Well, this story does hold some of that framework, but there's a lot more added to it so it doesn't feel like you're getting that de ja vu feeling while reading.
I found it interesting at how obsessed Cara and Claudia are with getting on the populazzi ladder. When I was in high school, I was nowhere near the top of the ladder but neither did I have any desire to be. The girls who hung out in that group were in a different social circle than I was but neither did they treat me like dirt when we were forced to communicate. The guys, though while popular as well, however were never my type and therefore I had no desire to try to be like one of those girls to get a guy. Maybe I'm just the weird person who didn't really crave that type of popularity when I was in high school so I found it a little hard to relate to Cara and Claudia. When Cara and Archer start hanging out, I was so happy for her at first because she didn't feel like she had to conform. But of course all that happened in only the first few chapters of the book so it was pretty much guaranteed it wasn't going to be smooth sailing.
Cara's climb onto the ladder seems to be smooth sailing as she makes her way up to the top. She gets two boyfriends but then discovers that there's a price to pay with these relationships. Just when she think she's finally at the pinnacle, everything comes crashing down. It's then appalling to see how teenagers turn on each other. There's so much hatred and meanness and it makes me wonder how people so young can turn out this way.
While I enjoyed the story and Allen's style of writing, there's a part of me that wants to shout at Cara throughout the book to just be herself. It was rather sad (and pathetic) at times to see her constantly changing her behavior, personality and style just to fit in and please other people. Both her and Claudia seem like they are really nice girls and I probably would have hung out with them in high school (yet I would be too low on the ladder for them). As Cara finds out, being popular isn't all it's cracked up to be and it's not worth it.
One thing that is sort of glossed over but I feel needs mentioning is Cara's stepfather. Not much of his background is really mentioned but from what is said about him as well as the behavior and actions he shows, he appears to have major issues. He's controlling, emotionally abusive and hints at having a gambling addiction. I was appalled at his behavior towards Cara in the beginning of the story when he finds out about the charges she put on the credit card. If it was something she did all the time, then I could understand the blowup. But from what I could gather, she has been a good kid and student so there was no reason at all for him to act the way he did. I really wonder what he gets out of her going to a top college and doing well. Her mother is completely spineless when it comes to him and I hate how she puts so much pressure on Cara to make their home happy. This whole situation is never fully resolved and it leaves me with an uneasy feeling with him heading their household.
Overall, this was an enjoyable read. I think a lot of teen girls will relate to Cara and feeling that need of acceptance and status. I also hope that they won't follow in her footsteps and find themselves in her shoes. I really like Allen's writing and I'm looking forward to reading more from her in the future.
Populazzi by Elise Allen is published by Harcourt Children's Books (2011)
This ARC was provided for a blog tour with Book Sparks PR