Release Date: April 1, 2012
Age Group: Young Adult
Buy: Amazon / Book Depository / IndieBound
An intense look at the rules of high school attraction -- and the price that's paid for them.
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.
The List definitely gives you plenty to think about. Siobhan Vivian takes on the world of high school beauty politics in this complicated, slightly crowded, but often heart-breaking story. This follows eight female students at Mount Washington High School during the week of Homecoming. Traditionally, at the beginning of that week, a list is posted anonymously, cataloging the prettiest and ugliest girls in each grade. The points of view shift between chapters, giving the reader a glimpse into each girl’s life leading up to the dance that Saturday.
The ugliest freshman is Danielle, a star swimmer with a boyfriend on the football team. She takes the news understandably hard, but her boyfriend seems to take it harder. He allows his popular friends to tease him about dating her and tease her about the “Dan the Man” nickname she’s earned. Danielle is one of my favorites, because I think she handles a very tough situation very well, and she doesn’t let it keep her completely down. The prettiest freshman is Abby, whose older sister had been one of the ugly girls on a previous year’s list. She is actually pleased to be recognized and noticed, but her sister Fern shames her for caring about looks and popularity when she should be concentrating on school. Their back-and-forth is typical for sisters of different social classes, and it plays out predictably.
The ugliest sophomore is Candace, chosen solely because she is ugly on the inside. The prettiest sophomore is previously homeschooled Lauren, who is more naïve than a girl her age should ever be. I ended up pitying both of them by the end, because neither girl has a clue how to deal with any of this. Candace makes Regina George look pleasant at the beginning, but her attitude change in just a week is fairly remarkable. And Lauren… well, she’s still got a lot to learn about public school and growing up.
My favorite journey comes in the form of ugliest junior and art student Sarah. She wears her new “crown” proudly, scrawling “UGLY” across her forehead and refusing to shower for the entire week. It’s disgusting, but at least it’s original and interesting to read. Her chronicle makes your skin crawl in so many ways. Her pretty counterpart, Bridget, is my least favorite. She had lost some weight over the summer (by not eating), and she feels the pretty title validated her “diet” choice. I think her struggle is an important message, but one that had been told before in a better way.
Finally, the most complex relationship comes from pretty senior Margo and the first ever 4-time ugly “champion” Jennifer. Margo and Jennifer were best friends as children, but they had an epic falling out before high school. Now, Margo’s friends feel sorry for Jennifer, but Margo doesn’t know what to think of the entire situation. The origin of their fight is the second biggest mystery of the novel, following the identity of the listmaker. One reveal is much more satisfying than the other, but I’ll leave that to you to figure out.
While The List is crowded with characters whose names don’t always stick, their stories Vivian’s readable style compel me to keep going. The List is an intriguing and important read for anyone who thinks it’s easier on “the other side.”