by Jackie Nastri Bardenwerper
Publication Date: October 7, 2014
Published by Taotug Press
Getting in is hard. Staying in is harder...
Joining social network Populatti.com let sixteen-year-old Livi Stanley trade her awkward middle school past for the social life of her dreams. Because Populatti isn't just a social network. It's a club, providing access to friends. Parties. And Livi's crush, star baseball player Brandon Dash. Yet lately, online rumors have been threatening Livi's place in the group. And not even her friends are doing much to stop them. Leaving Livi to prove them wrong, and fast.
Before her life as a popster is over.
Q & A with Jackie Nastri Bardenwerper
Where did you get the idea for Populatti?
This story came to me when I learned about the dating website www.beautifulpeople.com back in 2010. It was about how you had to be voted into the site and could be voted out if your looks changed and the community decided you were no longer beautiful. It sounded terrible – and very much like something high school kids might do! So I adapted the concept to work in a high school setting. I also really wanted to take a look at both the overt and more subtle types of bullying that often occur in high school settings. We hear a lot about the more overt incidents, but a lot of bullying really is more subtle and can often come from kids’ so-called friends!
How did you come up with the name for the book and the social media site, Populatti.com?
I tried to put myself in my characters’ shoes and think about what they would want in a name if
they were creating a site. I figured they’d want something that spoke to the site’s exclusiveness,
sounded unique and had a URL that was actually available. After some serious brainstorm sessions
with friends and family, Populatti was the clear winner.
The main character Livi is easy to root for. How did you shape her character?
Shaping Livi into a likeable character was probably one of my biggest challenges throughout the writing and revising process. Because while Populatti.com has many elements that are cruel, I
wanted it to be clear that Livi herself was not a mean person. I tried to accomplish this by showing that Livi was a well-rounded girl who cared about academics, her family and her friends, yet struggled with insecurities stemming from bullying she experienced in middle school which she attended in another town.
I found Livi’s insecurities to be a very important part of her character as they helped explained
why she cared so deeply about Populatti, while also demonstrating the subjectivity – and irrationality – of popularity. Nothing about Livi changed when she moved towns except for the people, yet in one town she was popular and in the other she was bullied. I found this was an important point to make, and one Livi herself didn’t really understand until the conclusion of the book.
Why after a career in public relations did you decide to start writing young adult fiction?
I actually first started writing young adult fiction during my free time in college and spent many
years after writing manuscripts and improving my craft. Both On the Line and Populatti were written at night while I was working full time. After the birth of my daughter, I knew there were not enough hours in the day to work full time, write at night, and be the type of mom I wanted to be. So I had to make a choice – continue in marketing and put my writing on hold, or take a risk and keep writing. I decided it was finally time to pursue my passion, and every day I wake up feeling incredibly lucky that I get to be with my daughter while pursuing my dream.
Has your daughter influenced your writing?
Definitely! While I have always shied away from profanity and explicit material in my writing,
having my daughter has really solidified my stance on this issue. Now whenever I sit down to write, I
think about whether it’s something I’d want her to read in 10 or 15 years. And if the thought of her
reading makes me feel a little queasy, then I know I need to reconsider. Because while I want my
stories to be realistic and truthful, I also want them to help girls feel good about being themselves.
Finding the right balance can be challenging, but I believe it is important, especially as I hear from
more preteen and tween readers.
What advice do you have for parents (or their teens) in making social media decisions?
- Accept that social media is here to stay, but recognize that it shouldn’t be all-consuming.
- Create a social media policy together with your teen. Whether it’s limiting time spent on sites, agreeing to parent-monitored profile pages, or avoiding certain sites altogether, make sure you have their buy-in.
- Begin the conversation way before the teen years. Make sure kids know about the permanence of what is posted online, and how online anonymity can make bullying much easier and more painful. Teach kids that you are there to help, not judge, if a difficult situation ever arises.
- Work to create an open dialogue with your teen about all facets of their lives, not just their online profiles.
- Encourage participation in real-world activities such as sports, clubs and other extracurriculars that can help teens build confidence and relationships based on more than just social status.
- Let your teen know you are their biggest cheerleader, and you will always support them no matter what.
Are you planning to write more young adult fiction?
Yes! I am currently hard at work on a new novel about a high school sailing champion living in
another small beach community in Connecticut. Right now I am researching some local legends and
working on tying them into the plot. I am really excited about this new novel and can’t wait to share
more details soon!
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