Popular by Sofia O’Hara, short story, 16 pages, published in 2016.
Jenna isn’t slim and pretty like some of the other girls in her school, but she wants to be. She gets bullied at school, devastatingly, by the boy she has a crush on. This causes her to hit a pivotal moment in her young life when she realises that she needs to love herself before anyone else can love her.
To be honest, I didn’t really like this short story much. The writing was fine, but I didn’t enjoy the content. I was also a bit irritated by Jenna.
The message about the importance of loving and liking oneself is important; we should like who we are and be proud of ourselves. However, seeing a poster with a beautiful model on it and wanting to be like that isn’t my idea of accepting and loving who you are. It’s fine to want change and to pursue it, but Jenna only seemed to be interested in her looks and what the other kids thought of her. She makes changes to her lifestyle which causes her to lose weight and feel better, which is great for her health, but she’s only happy and proud after the changes. To me this suggests that one can only be happy if one is slim. Not the positive body image message I was expecting.
I felt sorry for Jenna, not because she was overweight, but because she seemed to have no personality and no friends. If being slim and pretty is the only criteria for being popular, I’ll take a pass, and Jenna should have too. There are much more satisfying things in life than being popular in high school. Pursuing a fulfilling hobby, learning a language, playing a team sport, taking a practical life skills course, joining a community group, or volunteering could have effected the same positive benefits for Jenna. Learning to communicate effectively with others and mingle with other teenagers with similar interests would have given Jenna a sense of belonging, helping her to accept herself as she was. Instead, this story focussed on Jenna making some physical changes and how that affected the way her peers viewed her.
Popular is suitable for teen readers, but it wasn’t my cuppa tea.
*I received this book as a digital copy from the author, who asked me for an honest review of this book. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.