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

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Game Changers by Mike Lupica

I'd come across Heat, one of Mike Lupica's earlier novels purely by chance.  I'm not much of a sports fan but the story of this young boy and his older brother trying to get by after the death of their father was about much more than just baseball.  Somehow,  Lupica wove in the problems facing a young illegal immigrant - the fear, the need to hide and the desire to fit in - into the story of this amazing athlete who has a chance to bring his little league team to victory as long as he isn't outed and deported first.   It's hard to explain exactly, but after reading Heat, I started reading as much of Mike Lupica's young adult novels that I could find.   Needless to say, I was excited to review his latest young adult novel, Game Changers.

Like Heat, Game Changers introduces us to a hero so likable, that you find yourself in his corner early in the book.  Ben McBain is a born quarterback: he loves football, he's understands the game, sees the entire field when he plays, he's quick, he's strong, and he brings his teammates together.  Unfortunately, Ben is also much smaller than the usual quarterback, which means that few of the coaches or grownups see him as a natural for that position.  Instead of whining about his luck, Ben plays smarter and he works harder than everyone else. Fortunately, he lives right next to a field which he and his three closest friends have dubbed McBain Field for all the hours they've spent there over the years.

The book opens with a new football season starting. Ben McBain is better than ever and he's excited for tryouts.  Their new coach O'Brien is a superstar in his own right - he played for the NFL and cares about the kids. Unfortunately for Ben, the coach's son Shawn O'Brien is trying out for quarterback too. Shawn is bigger, stronger, and is a shoe-in for the position.

Invariably, Shawn becomes the starting quarterback. When Shawn plays well, he excels.  But in tough times, Shawn gets nervous, he worries too much, and somehow he loses his game.  Ben's friends see this as an opportunity for Ben to take over.  But Shawn reaches out to Ben for his help and Ben soon finds himself spending his free time helping Shawn become a better quarterback. Shawn's sworn Ben to secrecy about their extra sessions. How much of a good guy does Ben have to be?

When can Ben finally tell his good friends what's going on?  And can Ben ever use what he's learned to win the quarterback position for himself?

In Game Changers, Lupica puts Ben McBain through the wringer.  Somehow, hard work, decency, and friends make things work out for the team, for Ben and even for Shawn.  Game Changers combines football, friendship, loyalty, and a good story.  I recommend it!

ISBN-10: 0545381827 - Hardcover $16.99
Publisher: Scholastic Press (May 8, 2012), 224 pages.  
Review copy courtesy of Amazon Vine and the publisher.

About the Author:
Mike Lupica is one of the most prominent sports writers in America.  He began his newspaper career covering the New York Knicks for the New York Post at age 23. He became the youngest columnist ever at a New York paper with the New York Daily News, which he joined in 1977. For more than 30 years, Lupica has added magazines, novels, sports biographies, other non-fiction books on sports, as well as television to his professional resume. For the past fifteen years, he has been a TV anchor for ESPN's The Sports Reporters. He also hosted his own program, The Mike Lupica Show on ESPN2.  In addition, he has written a number of novels, including Dead Air, Extra Credits, Limited Partner, Jump, Full Court Press, Red Zone, Too Far and national bestsellers Wild Pitch and Bump and Run. His previous young adult novels, Travel Team, Heat, Miracle on 49th Street, and the summer hit for 2007, Summer Ball, have shot up the New York Times bestseller list. Lupica is also what he describes as a "serial Little League coach," a youth basketball coach, and a soccer coach for his four children, three sons and a daughter. He and his family live in Connecticut.