The Popularity Papers: Words of (Questionable) Wisdom from Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang, written and illustrated by Amy Ignatow, 208 pp, RL 5

THE POPULARITY PAPERS BOOK 3 is now in paperback!!

One of the few downsides to this blog is that I have such a full shelf of books I want to read and review I feel like I rarely have the time or luxury to read a complete series of books. In terms of reviews, I feel like a positive review of the first book in a series is a pretty good indicator of the rest to come and readers don't need me to keep telling them that every time a new book in the series comes out. However, Amy Ignatow's Popularity Papers series is one of the few exceptions I make. I just can't get enough of Julie and Lydia and I am continually in AWE of Amy Ignatow's ability to write stories about life in middle school that ring true, have thoughtful, well meaning characters and are constantly visually stunning. Book three, Words of (Questionable) Wisdom from Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang finds the friends together again and still trying to navigate sixth grade.

The book starts with Lydia sharing "Weird things my mom says - Now we can cross 'living abroad' off our Bucket List!" While Lydia readjusts to life in the States (speaking American, looking the right direction for cars when crossing the street) she also convinces Julie that they need a bucket list of their own. Actually, Lydia says a bucket is not big enough - they need a Trunk List. Between the two of them, they want to: 

1: Star in the school musical 
2: Stay up all night
3: Show Ms Harrington something so impressive that she'll be forced to say, "What you have done is unquestionably great, Julie!"
4: Go skydiving.

Lydia stole the last item on the list from her mom's bucket list, but the girls do accomplish the first three things on the list in typical Lydia and Julie style - which means, not exactly in the glowing, friend-making ways that they had hoped. Even when things seem to be going good for these two they can get bad. 

Ignatow finds a perfect balance between things going wrong through no fault of Lydia and Julie, things going wrong because the girls make poor choices and things going wrong because kids can be just plain mean and intolerant. Through it all, the girls have their friend Sukie in mind. In the last book, their friend Sukie struggled with her mother's terminal illness and Julie and Lydia learned how to be empathetic and connect with her during this tough time. In this book, Sukie's mother dies and she asks Julie and Lydia to come to her funeral. They are glad that they can be there for her and, when they go home after the funeral they keep in touch with her, thinking they are looking out for Sukie, but in the end they discover that Sukie has been looking out for them, too. 

How and why Lydia and Julie accomplish #2 (staying up all night) is very funny and involves a thermos of coffee and a comic book with ninja girls and three-headed trolls that is supposed to help Julie accomplish #3 but instead ends up alienating their friend Roland and angering most of the middle school. The fallout results in graffiti, some by Julie and Lydia, some by a mystery person and some by a mean person, all of which have some interesting consequences. Lydia faces the challenge of trying to be friends with her old crush and eskrima buddy Chuck who is not dating Jane. Eventually, Jane gives Chuck and ultimatum and Chuck tells Lydia that he still wants to be friends but he can't talk to her anymore. When this proves too difficult to maintain and Chuck confides in  Lydia, she spills the beans, convincing herself that she is actually doing Jane a favor. With the help of Julie and new friend Jen, Lydia realizes that what she did was mean and meant to upset Jane, just like the behavior of mean-girl Della Dawn. Wanting to make things right (and be nothing like Della Dawn) Lydia apologizes to Jane.

By the end of the book (and the end of 6th grade) Julie and Lydia realize that some friendships aren't meant to be, not everyone is meant to be friends and that not being popular comes with a lot of freedom to be who you are and not worry about everyone else.

And, YES!!! There is a Popularity Papers 4!!!!!

The Rocky Road Trip of Lydia Goldblatt and Julia-Graham Chang

Coming April 1, 2012

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