"Her daughter enjoyed a most uncommon degree of popularity." –Emma, Jane Austen
Your own daughter. . . one of the popular girls?
On the first day of middle school, Lydia Meadows, a former lawyer turned full-time mother, is startled to discover that her daughter Erin is one of the popular girls, a tight foursome whose mothers are also great friends. Lydia has always thought of popular girls as ambitious little manipulators who enjoy being cruel. But Erin is kind and well-adjusted. Maybe this popularity thing won't be so bad after all.
Then a new student ruthlessly targets Erin to boost her own popularity, and Lydia helplessly wonders what to do when her daughter's phone stops ringing. And the uneasiness among the girls begins to affect the friendship of the mothers—even though they are all grown women who should know better. Has their driven energy, once directed toward their careers, turned into an obsession with the social lives of their daughters?
A Most Uncommon Degree of Popularity is a delightful novel of manners, an unabashed chronicle of the rules, rituals, and pitfalls of raising a daughter.
Seidel catalogues the trials of upper-middle-class family life in a novel that will appeal primarily to the sort of people it aims to (gently) critique. Ex-lawyer Lydia Meadows is so busy bracing herself to deal with potential bullies that she's dazed to discover that her sixth grader, Erin, is gasp one of the popular girls at her posh Washington, D.C., private school. But when another girl knocks Erin from her pedestal, Lydia is shocked to find that Erin's fall from grace has reverberations in her own life. Four adult women, whom Lydia considered her best friends cum "professional associates... all in the business of raising children," adopt the petty behavior of their teenage daughters, which makes Lydia wonder where the line is between wanting the best for your children and being overly involved in their lives. Though there's the odd snippet of sharp social commentary, the story is bogged-down with minutiae (readers don't need to be walked through every car pool crisis to get the general idea), and Seidel beats some already-tired metaphors to death (the whole "it takes a village" concept, for example). This could have been a lively novel of manners, but dull prose and lackluster dramas (will the kids get into Sidwell Friends School?) flatten it.