In a smart, entertaining, reassuring book that reads like fiction, Alexandra Robbins manages to cross Gossip Girl with Freaks and Geeks and explain the fascinating psychology and science behind popularity and outcasthood. She reveals that the things that set students apart in high school are the things that help them stand out later in life.
Robbins follows seven real people grappling with the uncertainties of high-school social life, including:
The Loner, who has withdrawn from classmates since they persuaded her to unwittingly join her own hate club
The Popular Bitch, a cheerleading captain both seduced by and trapped within her clique’s perceived prestige
The Nerd, whose differences cause students to laugh at him and his mother to needle him for not being “normal”
The New Girl, determined to stay positive as classmates harass her for her mannerisms and target her because of her race
The Gamer, an underachiever in danger of not graduating, despite his intellect and his yearning to connect with other students
The Weird Girl, who battles discrimination and gossipy politics in school but leads a joyous life outside of it
The Band Geek, who is alternately branded too serious and too emo, yet annually runs for class president
In the middle of the year, Robbins surprises her subjects with a secret challenge—experiments that force them to change how classmates see them.
Robbins intertwines these narratives—often triumphant, occasionally heartbreaking, and always captivating—with essays exploring subjects like the secrets of popularity, being excluded doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you, why outsiders succeed, how schools make the social scene worse—and how to fix it.
There are two reasons why three of the five books that Alexandra Robbins has written so far have been New York Times best sellers. Robbins writes about the anxiety-riddled inner life of teenagers and 20-something outsiders, an important subject everybody who plans to grow up must deal with sooner or later. The other reason her well-researched psycho-sociological case studies are best sellers is that they are complete readable, with an accessible and non-technical vocabulary bolstered by current pop cultural references and compelling adjectives. This is a highly prescriptive work of nonfiction, to be sure, but Robbins always presents her evidence in a thorough way that creates sympathetic characters out of her subjects, instead of simply reducing them to data.
This particular treatise focuses on the perils of trying to attain positive recognition from one’s high school peers, demonstrated through the eyes of her seven main subjects: the band geek, the gamer, and the nerdy boy, alongside the weird girl, new girl, loner girl, and that most despised of all archetypes, the popular bitch. Kathleen McInerney does a beautifully understated job of narrating the emotional life of these awkward outcasts as they inch along their divergent rocky roads. Many of Robbins’ anecdotes are highly charged, from anti-gay bullying to garnering votes for class president. McInerney thankfully resists the temptation to act the parts of these underdogs as their feelings of isolation and failure often boil over, opting instead for a more nuanced and therefore more intense coming-of-age portrait.
It’s not difficult to find these tales of high school horror believable. The hard part, of course, is to actively work toward implementing Robbins’ recommendations for how best to allow these kids the space and the energy to be themselves. Whether you’re a student having a tough time, a parent who feels clueless, a school employee who gets frustrated by the popular kids’ domination of the school, or just a human being this book is for anyone of any age who needs to hear that you’re not alone in sometimes feeling like a loser. Megan Volpert
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Not what I expected...
Performance was fine, content not what I expected.
I expected this to be more academic and applicable to dealing with teenagers. I had hoped for more of a
A Good thesis, maybe overstated.