Review: 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.
This was my second book by Siobhan Vivian. I read Not That Kind of Girl (2010) earlier this year, and liked so much about it. I appreciated the way she wrote complicated high school girls and their relationships, even if the ultimate message of that book was a little lost on me. And after reading The List, released two years after NTKoG, I still believe this. The girls in her novels feel authentic and her writing style is so engaging, you just lose yourself.
The List is told from the point of view of the 8 girls who end up on the list, and it spans the week, from Monday when the list goes up through Saturday's Homecoming Dance. There are some surprises on the list - one of the more classically pretty girls is listed as the ugliest in her class because of her bad personality, the shy new girl is prettiest. And there are some met expectations - for the fourth year, Jennifer Briggis is the ugliest.
This morning, before the first homeroom bell, every girl at Mount Washington High will learn if her name is on the list or not.
The ones who aren't will wonder what the experience, good or bad, might have been like.
The eight girls who are won't have a choice.
It's hard to write a short novel with 8 main characters and still tell a compelling story. While much of the story does feel a little flimsy, and some of the characters not completely fleshed out (not every girl gets her own chapter for each day), I think Vivian does a great job of painting a picture of a week in high school. While all the girls are, by and large, white middle-class, they each have their own unique struggles, including family drama, sibling rivalry, boy problems, and eating disorders. I was particularly drawn to Danielle, Lauren, and Bridget's stories.
But this isn't really a novel about each of the girls. It's more like one of those films that follow like 12 characters for an hour and a half or so and then just ends. You have an idea for what might happen yet for those characters after the closing credits come and go, but the movie wasn't so much about any one of those characters as it was about the mood and showing a certain kind of world. This book works in a similar way - it isn't about any of the girls in particular, but about the list itself and the culture that makes it possible to have this kind of thing happen in the first place.
In full disclosure, I have some friends who hate these kind of movies, and I understand their perspective. I personally love them like 90% of time. There's something refreshing about vignettes.
If you prefer your books to have a good sense of closure, then the ending will infuriate you. Some things are wrapped up, others are left completely unraveled. Because, for some of the girls, this list will matter a lot. For others, it will be just one part of one week.
Published by Push on April 1, 2012