Popular by Gareth Russell

Jul4,2011 #Gareth Russell

Popular by Gareth RussellMany of you will have heard of my good friend, Gareth Russell, who runs http://garethrussellcidevant.blogspot.com/ and who frequently posts about Anne Boleyn and Tudor history. Well, I got to know Gareth last April and May when we were both counting down to Anne Boleyn’s execution and linking to each other’s articles, because we each focused on different things, and when I heard that he was writing a novel I just had to make sure he sent me a copy to review! I love Gareth’s writing so I was pretty sure that any novel by him would be a great read.

Gareth warned me that “Popular” was not Tudor but explained that one of the main characters, the queen bee Meredith, is an Anne Boleyn fan and that the group of friends love “The Tudors” series, but I didn’t care, sometimes it’s nice to have a break from history and I did enjoy this novel, which I guess you’d call “chick lit”.

“Popular” is about a group of 16 year old friends who all go to the same school in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and the things they get up to. They’re not normal kids, they’re all rich and fabulously popular – think Sharpay Evans! Designer clothes are everyday wear, spa days are not a luxury, but a weekly must-do, Carrie Bradshaw is their role model and diet coke is the drink of choice, when champagne is not available of course. Main characters include:-

  • Meredith – The queen bee of the group who says who’s in and who’s out, what’s in and what’s out, and who manipulates everyone around her. She has the charm and magnetism of her heroine, Anne Boleyn, and there just may be a streak of vulnerability lurking beneath her glossy veneer.
  • Imogen – Meredith’s drop-dead gorgeous best friend who gets in a bit of a mess with her love-life after taking advice from her friends and one of her favourite TV series, Sex in the City.
  • Kerry – The “Pink Manolos Princess” who suffers FIBs (Fabulously Induced Breakdowns) over the slightest thing, e.g. drinking a fat coke by accident.
  • Catherine – The flaky misfit who is always on the edge of the group.
  • Cameron – The only boy in Meredith’s clique and the guy that Meredith can always depend on. Poor Cameron is hopelessly split between his new super popular friends and his childhood best friend, Mark, who Meredith hates with a vengeance.
  • Blake – The new, and rather handsome, American kid.
  • The lads: Mark, Stewart and Peter – The boys that Meredith ‘allows’ her friends to occasionally spend time with!

The novel follows the group through the events of their school year – the return to school in September, Kerry’s 16th birthday party, nights out, dates, balls, Christmas, non-uniform days, mock exams, Valentine’s Day, sports day, GCSE exams and the end of term – and everything that goes with it: drunken antics, hangovers, infidelity, stolen kisses, secrets, lies, fashion faux pas, disasters, break-ups, romance, heartache, bitching, “emergencias”, tall tales, revelations… You name it! The book is a fun read, just perfect for the beach or lazing in a sunny garden, and takes you back to your school days when every faux pas was an “emergencia”. In Gareth’s bio at the front, it says that “nearly all the book is based upon events that have happened during his schooldays – the more ridiculous they seem, the greater chance that they are close to real life”, well, Gareth, your school days must have been one hell of a ride!

So, even though this book has nothing to do with Anne Boleyn or Tudor history, apart from Gareth being an historian and the novel containing references to Anne and “The Tudors”, I would recommend it. Why? Because it’s fun and it’s by a great writer. If you enjoy “Sex in the City”, if you want to be reminded of the angst and madness of your school days, if you love Marie Antoinette, Anne Boleyn and Scarlett O’Hara, and you appreciate good modern fiction, then I’d recommend “Popular”. Gareth is already working on the sequel and I can’t wait to read it.

Congratulations, Gareth, on a wonderful debut novel!

P.S. Gareth is going to be leading our Executed Queens Tour in June 2012 and will be sharing his extensive knowledge of Anne Boleyn with the group. See The Executed Queens Tour page on our new History Tour website for more details.

P.P.S. Happy 4th July to our visitors from across the Pond!


Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Penguin (7 July 2011, UK and Ireland)
Language English
ISBN-10: 0141334533
ISBN-13: 978-0141334530

It is available at Amazon UK as a paperback or Kindle edition – click here – and in the US for the Kindle – click here

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15 thoughts on “Popular by Gareth Russell”
  1. Thanks for the review Claire, this book sounds great and right up my street. I will definatly be ordering a copy !!!

  2. This is a bit of a surprise. If you knew teenagers, the last thing on their minds is a history program and the last thing I would let my nieces watch is “The Tudors.” Their mother would have killed me! Not all parents let their kids watch anything they want to and they would rather see “Twilight” and “Harry Potter” any day. The girls with more money buy the real Ugg boots and not the fake ones. Their parents take them for private singing lessons so they can get solo parts in chorus. And most teens hate diet Coke. They like Starbucks and walk around texting as much as they can. Hot Top and Abercrombie and Fitch are the preferred stores. Teens today are different from when I was in school. So Gareth, you need to meet some real southern California teens before writing about teens in general. And “Sex and the City” is also off limits but then again, they are women in their 30’s and up so of no interest to the teenagers I have met.

    1. I think there is a big difference between teenagers in different countries, Lisa, and Gareth is writing about teens in Belfast, Northern Ireland, not teens in general or US teens, which, from what you’ve said, are very different to teens here in Spain and in the UK. I know from the emails that I get from teens that many of them were addicted to “The Tudors” and are now really interested in the period. Although I don’t think it’s at all suitable, obviously many of them have watched it!
      Gareth’s not long out of university and lives in Northern Ireland, so he’s still close enough in age and location to know what teens are up to and I think the novel is also based on his own school days.

  3. I would love to know where Gareth went to high school. I went to a high school that had many affluent students and they just had much better cars, clothes, and took better vacations than the rest of us. Popular is one of the silliest notions I have come across. I know I was too interested in me to care about others. Most teens are self-centered and more concerned with their own grades and social life. Sure, it makes for good movies and books but the stereotypes just continue. I will get off my soap box but really, at schools which were considered small, like mine with a population of 500, I had no interest in who was popular. And you have to sit down and see how teens react to vivid sex scenes to know why you do not want to be the adult in the room. That is why I could watch the Keith Mitchell series when I was young with my mom. I am sure some teens watched “The Tudors” but I wonder how much they understood or it mom or dad was around. Imagine sitting next to your dad while JRM runs around naked – not a pretty picture,

    1. As far as I know, he went to high school in Northern Ireland. I do think that to say “Popular is one of the silliest notions I have come across” is rather harsh if you haven’t read the book. I’ve read it and it’s a really fun read, it’s not meant to be taken seriously, it’s “chick lit”. The book has been published by Penguin, a huge publisher, and Gareth has a three book deal with them so congratulations to him, he’s worked hard and it’s a great read.

  4. He can send me a free copy but you should know that my opinions are just my opinions and you are free to totally disagree with me. I can listen to “Popular” from the musical “Wicked” for free anytime I want to. I do not think I am being harsh but just expressing an opinion about an idea in general. I will get off my soapbox now and move on.

    1. I realise that it’s only your opinion, I’m just pointing out that this is not a novel about American teens and you were criticising Gareth for not knowing teens. There are huge cultural differences between teens in different countries.

  5. I have met a few exchange students and I think that there was no massive cultural gap between them and the teens here. I am somewhat surprised that you would make such a statement, I think you are over reacting to the face that i find the premise of your friend’s book to be very far fetched. And no, I am not buying a book when my nieces and their friends want to see the Harry Potter movie more than one time.

    1. Friendship has nothing to do with it, I only know Gareth through our online comments and connections, I was simply pointing out the cultural differences – which there must be as British teenagers are different to how you described US teens – and defending a book which you were judging quite harshly without having read it.

  6. Lisa-Anne-Jane, I can assure you that the book is based on real-life in Belfast. I would never presume to excoriate a book I hadn’t read about a place I’d never been to. However, you’re absolutely right that it’s your prerogative to do so, however ill-founded. It is, I’ll admit, a little baffling to come across such aggression towards a book because it doesn’t capture the reality your nieces experience. Claire, thank you so much for the very kind review. We’re rehearsing the Irish stage show of “Popular” which is opening in Belfast in the first week of September. The cast are absolutely amazing and the feedback from everyone has been so very kind. I was on the BBC ArtsExtra show and they did discuss the Marie-Antoinette and Anne Boleyn elements of it, as well as life on the Malone Road, which was really really fun to do. Just did my interview with The Sunday Times as well, so it’s all happening very quickly! Hugely looking forward to the Executed Queens Tour next June and hope everything’s gone well with the renovations?

  7. Yikes! This has gotten out of hand. I have nothing to worry about because my nieces only want to text and listen to Justin Beiber. So why not delete all my comments and forget the whole thing? If I could delete them, I would. They had not even read the Harry Potter books before the movie. I guess they only read things for a grade (sigh).

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