The List by Siobhan Vivian
It happens every year. A list is posted, and one girl from each grade is chosen as the prettiest, and another is chosen as the ugliest. Nobody knows who makes the list. It almost doesn’t matter. The damage is done the minute it goes up.
This is the story of eight girls, freshman to senior, “pretty” and “ugly.” And it’s also the story of how we see ourselves, and how other people see us, and the tangled connection of the two. (Goodreads)
Mount Washington High School has a nasty little tradition. Each year, during the week of Homecoming, a list is plastered all over the school naming the ugliest and prettiest girls in each grade. Some girls relish the attention, consider it an honor. Others, for more obvious reasons, are deeply offended. And no one knows who creates this list (though I think we all know that only females have the ability to be this bitchy. Let’s be real. Guys aren’t quite so calculated), but it’s a tradition that’s secretly passed down year after year.
Eight girls have eight very different reactions to their appearance on the list. There’s Abby, the freshman who’s thrilled to be the prettiest, Candace, the pretty girl chosen as ugliest because she’s such a hideous beeotch, and Jennifer, the senior who’s made ugliest every year of her high school career. And there are five other girls, each with a different story. It’s SO brutal and yet, it felt pretty authentic (which is sad, really).
I liked this book. There was such a plethora of characters that I felt a bit confused at first (luckily there is a handy list in the front of the book), but once the stories got going it was easy to follow. I enjoyed the writing style, which is clean and simple without being flowery or overly descriptive. There were certain stories I cared about more than others: Danielle, the ugliest freshman, and her plight, her boyfriend’s subsequent embarrassment and douchiness. Or that of Bridget, the prettiest Junior, and her struggle with a burgeoning eating disorder. Those stories were far more interesting to me than Candace (the ugliest Sophomore) who was truly ugly on the inside and far more deserving of her title than anyone else on the list. What was perhaps most interesting of all was the revelation of who wrote the list. I didn’t see it coming. I can’t say that I was pleased because it made absolutely no sense to me, but I was quite intrigued.
My only real complaint (other than the major what the shizz moment I just mentioned) is that the story ends at the Homecoming dance. For some characters this was a great moment to end on because the loose ends had been tied up. For others, I felt their issues hadn’t been fully resolved (like,hello, Bridget gets into a smaller dress for the dance. Yay for eating disorders…not. And then what happens to her?!!).
All in all, I think Vivian addresses an issue so central to women of any age. Why do we need to look older and hotter than we are when we’re teens and then younger (and hotter) than we are when we’re adults? And to what lengths will we go to feel good about ourselves? For some it’s not very far, but for others, they’ll go under the knife. What’s accomplished either way? There’s always someone prettier. While Vivian doesn’t attempt to offer solutions, she sheds light on the reality that even when we want to believe we don’t care what others think, we always do, even if it’s just the tiniest bit.
Crush Intensity: 3.5/5 It was good. I needed some more closure, but I don’t think that was the point of the story.