Written by: Elise Allen
Released: August 1, 2011 by Harcourt Children’s Books
Summary: Cara has always dreamed of being a Populazzi, one of the popular crowd. But it’s not until she changes schools that she gets a shot at it, thanks to her best friend Claudia’s crazy plan. The idea is simple: The rungs of The Ladder are relationships. First get a boyfriend who's ranked low, then climb up through more boyfriends until you're not just one of the Populazzi, but the Supreme Populazzi. Yet what starts off as a fairy tale turns into a somewhat dark comedy of errors. Just when Cara reaches the top, her life hits rock bottom. She wonders why she wanted to be popular in the first place—and if there’s any way to live happily ever after now.
Before I even start this review, I have to get this off my chest. You cannot – I repeat – cannot get so high that you’re in an almost vegetative state for a while after on your first time, your first hit of smoking pot when it’s only one toke that you take*. Not unless there’s something incredibly nasty included in the mix, but the dude seemed completely fine. Hell, from what I know, most of the time you’re not going to get high at all your first time smoking. When I read that part of the novel I rolled my eyes and almost shut the computer window.
The next time that I almost stopped reading was when I read this;
“After he [Karl the stepfather] fought with Mom, he was so disgusted that he stormed out of the house, promising her that since she was choosing me [Cara] over him, the next time she heard from him would be through his divorce lawyer.”
Honestly, it’s still pissing me off even now. Thank god there was a voice of sanity and reason or else I would have washed my hands of this and called it a day. Still, the maternal unit in this is suffering from some serious mental instability if she willingly submits herself to this stuff. Slight ‘Battered Wife Syndrome’, anyone? Maybe I’m just a stronger person with strong female role models, but I would never EVER allow this to speak to me and my child(ren) in that way, let alone have that attitude towards us.
Ok, now I can continue on with this review.
As you can see above, this did evoke some real emotions from me that obviously stuck around longer than a few chapters. In that respect, this book is great and a phenomenal debut for 2011. It also has some amazingly written characters who are not only well developed but incredibly realistic and relatable.
Cara is your typical YA high schooler; the nobody who becomes a somebody after a full haul that changes just about everything in one way or another. She goes through transformations and in the end... well, I don’t want to ruin the ending. Let’s just say that she gets her man and leave it at that. However, Cara’s little journey was slightly different than others. Sure, there are books about the social climbers, but this one was inherently different in the fact that Cara, while scratching her way to the top, completely evolved into her alias’ and she carried over something from each into her real self. In that way, her disguises were really steps in not social-climbing, but discovering her true self. I think that that’s a great message; everything that happens in life happens for a reason. It either teaches you a lesson or makes you discover yourself. Sometimes it does both.
I thought that the basis of this story was very A Christmas Carol. Each relationship that Cara makes is reminiscent of the ghosts that visit Scrooge with each leaving their mark upon him as well as a life lesson. In the end, the result was the same with a self-realization and a slight change in direction.
I enjoyed this novel and I read it practically in one sitting in one evening (a reader does have to eat at some point). Where I found parts unbelievable and distasteful, I’m purposely putting them aside to look at the book as a whole. I think that the entire reason that I’m giving this a 6/10 is because while I enjoyed it, it didn’t ‘wow’ me at any point. But I think that also has to do with the fact that lately with what I’ve been reading, not a lot has had a completely original foundation; everything can be related to something else (or several somethings else). Still, this was a cute high school read and a great debut. I would recommend it if this is a genre that you like or if you’re interested in diving into YA high school drama for a few hours. Trust me, the drama in these pages does not disappoint.
Oh, and there’s Star Wars references, which is awesome.
Thank you to netGalley and everyone who made it possible for me to read this novel before its set publication date.
*Please note that while I’m not a person who regularly smokes (anything), I lived with them in university and I am 23. I’m also not against or for it – I couldn’t care either way, really – but I do believe that if you’re going to try it, you should make an informed decision and don’t do it just because everyone else is. Peer pressure is never cool, people.