About the Book

Title: Popular (Popular #1)
Published: 2011
Series: Popular

Cover Story: Kindle It
BFF Charm: Nay, Eventually, and BURN IN HELL
Swoonworthy Scale: 0
Talky Talk: Gossip Girl
Bonus Factors: Diversity
Relationship Status: Frenemies

Cover Story: Kindle It

Nope. Also, I think that tag line is tacky.

The Deal

At the poshest grammar school in Belfast, Meredith Harper and her band of plastic minions rule the fifth form. Beautiful, wealthy, and manipulative, Meredith always gets her way. She might have to throw a friend under the bus from time to time, but it’s a price worth paying to maintain her Queen Bee status. Meanwhile, her BFF, Imogen is busy trying to juggle two boyfriends at once, and Meredith’s right-hand man, Cameron, is having some loyalty issues between Meredith and his best friend Mark, who is also Meredith’s archnemesis. Will Meredith be able to maintain her reign of terror over the school, keeping her friends close and disposing of her enemies? Or will she finally get caught out on her deceit and manipulation, destroying her clique?

BFF Charm: Nay, Eventually, and BURN IN HELL

BFF Charm that says "denied"

Wow, everyone in this book is a complete monster. Sidekicks Catherine and Kerry are both incurably stupid, and Imogen, while at least a little more entertaining/less sloppy drunk, is still a terrible, terrible person. No thanks.

BFF Charm with a sweatband on

The only real exception is Cameron. I still disapprove of his choice of friends, and also, most everything he does, but you get to understand his motivations a little more than the others, rendering him more sympathetic than any of his friends. Plus, compared with everyone else in this book, he’s practically Mother Theresa.

Hell No BFF Charm in Flames

Meredith, on the other hand, is a total sociopath. She could out-manipulate Regina George in her sleep. The only reason she has friends is because everyone is afraid of her:

Kerry didn’t like the sort of icy, matter-of-fact way Meredith was speaking. It was this tone of voice that gave Kerry the firm belief that Meredith could kill someone without feeling even a twinge of remorse; what made it worse was that she knew without a shadow of a doubt that Imogen and Cameron would help her hide the body.

This is by no means the only time a character observes that Meredith could easily kill someone and get away with it. No Thanks, Mere.

Swoonworthy Scale: 0

There are several swoony moments in this book, but unfortunately, they are all but negated by how awful everyone is to each other. One hot, rainy makeout session does not cancel out 300+ other pages of scheming and manipulation. Russell lays the groundwork for some future swoon moments in the series, provided anyone can stop being terrible long enough to get it on.

Talky Talk: Gossip Girl

I never read the Gossip Girl series, but having seen the show, I imagine it’s not too dissimilar. The narrative shifts between characters so that you get glimpses into everyone’s motivations, but always just enough to keep you wondering what else is there.

Russell’s strength definitely lies in characterization; the book definitely picked up during the second half, when you get to learn a little more backstory about Cameron, Meredith, and their relationships with other characters. Without this, the first few chapters were a bit bumpy, trying a little too hard be clever and snarky, at times a bit contrived. That said, when Russell’s snark is on, it is on:

Coral was the unacknowledged queen bee of the ‘anti-popular crowd’. Every school has one of these and they vary only in degrees of how annoying they are… They wear clothes that look as if they’ve been rejected by both Oxfam and the dry-cleaners. Their Bebo and Facebook profiles are littered with drawings of anorexic self-harmers or quotes from Kurt Cobain. They hate any form of music that is in the charts and their house parties generally consist of guitar-strumming, a large amount of marijuana and even larger amounts of self-pity.

Meredith rolled her eyes. ‘Why can’t Coral just die?’

‘Because women like her grow up to spend their gap year in Thailand trying to find themselves and then take lots of drugs and become Buddhists in Goa,’ said Cameron.

Bonus Factor: LGBTQ

Pride flag being waved in a parade

More than one character questions their sexual identity, and I like the way it was handled. This didn’t turn into an Issue Book, and teenage sexuality was dealt with pretty realistically. Plus, it was the only time in the course of the novel that Meredith and I almost saw eye to eye.

Relationship Status: Frenemies

I’ll be real, book. I don’t really like you. None of your characters possess any redeeming qualities, and stories where people are constantly horrible to each other give me hives. I can’t even watch Mean Girls, so you’re definitely not on my list of favorites.

On the other hand, you are strangely compelling. As awful as she is, I want to know more about what lies behind Meredith Harper’s Crazy Eyes, and if Cameron will ever grow a pair and stop being her doormat. So, against my better judgement, I might just check out your sequel. As the adage goes, keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my review copy from Gareth Russell. I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). Popular is available now.

Alix is a writer and illustrator who spends way too much time reading Jane Austen retellings of varying quality.