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Project (Un)Popular explores middle school popularity, friendship
"Project (Un)Popular" is by Kristen Tracy. - photo by Tori Ackerman
In spite of her fear of animals and water, Kristen Tracy grew up wanting to be a marine biologist a career that is a far cry from her current line of work.

She eventually learned dabbling in the realm of sciences wasn't for her, and she refocused her studies on poetry. While she was earning her Ph.D. at Western Michigan University, she taught a literary course that covered all sorts of teen fiction, from E.B. White's "Charlotte's Web" to Laurie Halse Anderson's "Speak."

"I started to realize there were books I wanted to write, and I could see myself doing it," Tracy said.

And that's when her career as a novelist began.

Since that time, Tracy has been under contract and written 11 published novels, beginning with "Lost It," a humorous young adult novel about a girl who has her first romantic experience under a canoe.

Her newest book, "Project (Un)Popular" (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, $16.99, ages 10 and up) was released June 14 and is the beginning of what she hopes will become a five-book series.

The book tells of best friends Perry and Venice, who were chosen as new photographers for their middle school yearbook. They are both very young and new to middle school, so this is considered an unusual honor. However, they soon learn that the pictures they're supposed to take to represent the students of their school are actually just staged photos of the popular kids.

Perry, the books narrator and main character, tries to fight back against this social injustice by taking some matters into her own hands, which brings about a whole new set of problems. Ultimately, Perry has to decide if she's going to continue to go against the grain and champion the nerds of her school to try and make things right, or join the popular crowd herself.

Tracy said her books are typically about her own personal experiences; however, "Project (Un)Popular" explores a different theme she didn't necessarily experience.

"Looking back at my own middle school, I wasn't an advocate for nerds," Tracy said. "I was closer to being a nerd."

Writing stories, Tracy said, allows her to re-enter her childhood and try other avenues and experiences that she may not have experienced in middle school and then react through her characters. She said she loved the idea of a girl and her friend being shocked by the hierarchy when entering middle school. She also loved writing about the "nerds" in her book.

"They're so true to who they are, even at the cost of social acceptance," Tracy said.

What with being under contract for 11 novels straight, Tracy has written quite a bit. She said she has to be in the right environment with the right conditions when she is writing.

"I am always surprised when authors say they can write everywhere, because I'm not that kind of author," Tracy said. "I have a desk, I have my computer, a setup, and I write best in the morning. I'm not the person who goes to a cafe and turns on music."

She said she writes in the morning, when her creativity is more alive and energetic, and then she edits in the evenings.

Tracy is currently working on a young adult novel about two girls from Idaho who go on a hiking program to Alaska and get lost. The story is based on an experience she had when she went to Alaska to do research and encountered a grizzly bear by herself.

"Project (Un)Popular" does not contain any explicit content or inappropriate language.