23 April 2012
The List by Siobhan Vivian
Book: The List by Siobhan Vivian
Summary: Every year, during the week before homecoming, an anonymous list hits the school declaring each class's prettiest and ugliest girl. The List follows all eight girls in the time leading up to homecoming and examines how girls and women see themselves and how that is affected by what others think of them.
Characters: There are eight main characters and they were all likeable in their own way and surprisingly easy to keep track of. I'll try to be brief. There will be spoilers, but I don't think they will actually spoil the story.
Abby is the prettiest freshman and the list puts her at odds with her brainy sister. Each think they are one thing and can't be the other... either pretty or smart... even though they don't believe that about the other. I would have loved to see more of their story, but felt satisfied with it. The ugliest freshman, Danielle, is given the nickname Dan the Man and it puts her boyfriend in a really uncomfortable position. He's a total jerk and while the list does cause them to break up, he wasn't good enough for Danielle to begin with and Danielle learns to love herself thanks to the awesome varsity swimmers. Her story was one of my favorites.
The sophomore girls held both my favorite and least favorite stories. Candace is a pretty girl who is declared ugly, told that pretty isn't just skin deep. The prettiest girl is Lauren, the new girl who is going to school for the first time after being home schooled her whole life. Candace changed and grew, but Lauren was all over the place. I had a hard time believing that she could go from someone who calls her mom "Mommy" to someone who sneaks out and gets drunk so quickly. She is the only girl who I could not relate to at all and her relationship with her mom was weird. I had no idea what her story was really about and didn't get a sense of closure. Also, most of the minor characters in this book were fully fleshed out, but I didn't get this with the group of girls who ditched Candace in favor of Lauren. They were just a stock group of pretty airheads.
The junior girls had the most interesting storylines. Sarah is a bit of a rebel and when she is declared as the ugliest, she takes it as a challenge. She writes UGLY on her forhead in sharpie and decides not to shower for a week. It was disgusting and in the end she realized that it didn't matter what she did, because nothing she did could shock people or change their preconceived notions of her. I wish I could have had more of her story, even though the conclusion she comes to kind of depressed me. Her pretty counterpart, Bridget, takes the list as confirmation that she made the right choice in becoming anorexic, something she's been struggling with for months. Her story follows as she lets her eating disorder take control of her life and the story ends with her smaller than she ever was, but still convinced that she will never be pretty. Again, depressing, but these were two of my favorite characters.
The senior girls are the pair that I'm most unsure about. Jennifer and Margo had been best friends in middle school, but Margo dropped her the summer before high school and freshman year they both made the list. Senior year, Jennifer is ugliest for the fourth year in a row, while Margo is once again the prettiest. Jennifer was so socially awkward is was completely unbearable, while Margo came off as really shallow in the beginning. We find out later that Jennifer is manipulative and it was a good decision that Margo decided to stop being friends with her, but the way everything came out was just weird.
Plot/Pacing/Structure: The first eight chapters are each girl reacting to the list and it's not that those chapters were slow or boring, but it felt like I had to start the book eight separate times. Once I got into the story, it was easy to keep track of all the characters and what was going on.
Other reviews have said that the ending was rather abrupt and I have to agree. Some of the story lines felt resolved, but just as many left me totally confused. The storyline with Margo and her sister was absolutely set up, but the event between them that launches the book into its climax felt like it relied on coincidence instead of being inevitable. This bothered me so much, because it wouldn't feel forced if Margo had been the one to make the call instead of the other way around.
Moments I Loved: I loved the moment when we see that Candace has changed and she helps Lauren. I loved Candace from her first chapter (I can be a bit of a mean girl when I want to be), but it was so great to see Candace become more.
I liked when Milo made Sarah shower. Thank you, Milo. I had to take a break and shower while reading this, because I could feel all of Sarah's dirt crawling on my skin while reading her chapters.
WTF Moments: Lauren's mom was weird. Lauren was nice and sweet, but her mother was controlling. I didn't understand their relationship and never felt like anything was resolved between them. There wasn't any confrontation or growth, just... weirdness.
The end, when you find out who wrote the list... it seemed to me to come out of nowhere. It reemphasizes the idea that pretty people are pretty because they decide to be and ugly people are ugly because they are socially inept. There are a few good messages here, but I'm still trying to really figure out what the book is trying to say. I honestly think I would have preferred if we never found out who wrote the list.
Overall: I really enjoyed The List, but felt that it missed out on its full potential. It is a very unique contemporary with characters that are easy to relate to. I liked that it raises a lot of questions about body image and how what we think about ourselves is influenced by what others think of us. It would definitely make a good book to discuss with others. While the end left me slightly disappointed, I still plan on reading the author's earlier novels.
Reading Challenges: This book counts toward the following challenges: 332 pages toward the 15,000 page challenge. Track all my progress on my 2012 Challenges page.