When Cara Leonard's parents moved in the summer of junior year, it meant a chance at a new school with new people who had no idea about her past place in the school hierarchy. Her best friend Claudia has come up with a sociological map for how Cara can make the most of her fresh start: climb the Ladder to the Populazzi, the highest social tier in the school, by dating boys at various steps in the social ladder. Claudia's plan for Cara seem destined for success when Cara easily meets and connects with Archer, a boy down on the Ladder, but enough to make the first step into popularity. But Cara likes him more than she should for the Ladders plan to succeed.
Populazzi is familiar for all readers of YA lit: a cautionary tale about pursuit of popularity. So, to be fair, Cara does make her way up the Ladders, dating boys with their own goals and angsts, and the protagonist predictably learns about the True Power of True Friendship. Despite the fairly stock tale, the author's characters are such interesting and engaging studies in extremes--such as the caring but emotionally tyrannical step father-- that I stuck it out to a fairly satisfying, if not unexpected, conclusion. The author is also very knowledgeable about the potential of Facebook and sneaky cell phone cameras to make or break a high schooler's social status, which makes most of the story fairly plausible. Readers will have been here before, but they might not mind taking this trip again with the earnest but confused Cara.
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.