Thursday, October 18, 2012

The List by Siobhan Vivian

The blurb:

It happens every year before homecoming--the list is posted all over school.  Two girls are picked from each grade.  One is named the prettiest, one the ugliest.   The girls who aren't picked are quickly forgotten.  The girls who are become the center of attention  Each one has a different reaction to the experience.

Freshmen:   Abby's joy at being named prettiest is clouded by her sister's resentment.
Danielle worries about how her boyfriend will take the news.  

Sophomores:  Lauren is a homeschooled girl blindsided by her instant popularity.
Candace isn't ugly, not even close, so it must be a mistake.

Juniors:  Bridget knows her summer transformation isn't something to celebrate.
Sarah has always rebelled against traditional standards of beauty and she decides to take her mutiny to the next level. 
Seniors:  Margo and Jennifer, ex-best friends who haven't spoken in years, are forced to confront why their relationship ended.

With The List, Siobhan Vivian deftly takes you into the lives of eight very different girls struggling with issues of identity, self-esteem, and the judgments of their peers.  Prettiest or ugliest, once you're on the list, you'll never be the same.

The List stood out for me.  I enjoyed reading it as an adult and I know that I would have loved it if I'd read it in high school.  The concept itself is catchy but it's the execution that makes it such a fascinating read.  Siobhan's eight main girls are complex and fully fleshed out without any of them becoming tedious, whiny or annoying or impossibly perfect.  

Siobhan shows each of the girls reacting very differently.    Not surprisingly, those scorned are particularly interesting: Freshman  Danielle, "Dan the Man"  starts tearing down copies of the List but they are plastered all over the school.  Gorgeous Candace is baffled and comes back with a harsh joke, ripping on the nearby blind girl, an innocent bystander.  Sarah tries to flip the word back at the world - by writing "UGLY" on her forehead.  Jennifer sets a record after having been voted the ugliest girl for all four years of high school - by this time she's learned to swallow her feelings and pretend to laugh. 
While being singled out as pretty doesn't affect the other four girls the same way either.  Abby has to deal with knowing that her best friend wasn't selected as the prettiest girl - and that her older sister Fern had been singled out as the ugliest girl not so long ago.  Lauren is new to public school, so the sudden surge of interest is stressful and confusing.  Lauren isn't prepared for all the politics that comes with her sudden popularity.  Bridget has body image issues - she's lost a lot of weight and can't stop herself from losing more.  The acknowledgment of how much she's blossomed puts more pressure on her. She worries that she's giving her beloved younger sister a bad example - and this adds to her stress.

Principal Colby calls all those named to her office in an attempt to repair the damage and stop the tradition, everyone knows that this isn't going to help.   The girls' friends and boyfriends try to behave decently but social pressures eventually do their own damage.  It takes much strength and toughness to handle the repercussions of being on the List - I found myself sympathizing with each of the girls as they tried to keep their lives on course.

Siobhan Vivian delivers an engaging and sympathetic story with humor and sensitivity.  The List is a book that I plan to share with my nieces and friends.

ISBN-10: 0545169178 - Hardcover $17.99
Publisher: Push (April 1, 2012), 336 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

About the Author:
Siobhan Vivian is the acclaimed author of A Little Friendly Advice, Same Difference, and Not That Kind of Girl, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year and an American Library Association Best Book for Teens.  She currently lives in Pittsburgh.  Learn more about her at

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