The List by Siobhan Vivian
Release Date: April 1, 2012
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.
There are some of those books that really give you the inside look on how the teen mind works. There’s a lot more drama than there needs to be and constant struggles because inside, everybody considers themselves the most important person in the world.I was originally wanting this book because there’s this class at my school that we do every other week called Owning Up. Owning Up is created by Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabes and Boys, Girls, and Other Hazardous Materials. Her book QBAW was the inspiration for the movie Mean Girls.During Owning Up, we talk about everything. It’s really great because we talk about everything – expectations, sexism, boys vs. girls, relationships, and growing up. We explore the good, the bad, and the ugly. Of course, I can’t tell you that much about it because we swore never to let anything leave the room. But it truly does help. It shapes us and makes us blatantly honest, and it’s one of the reasons that there isn’t any drama in our grade.This book reminded me of everything we’ve talked about. Almost every single thing that we’ve talked about has been spotlighted in this book at one point or another.The List is definitely character driven. The characters make the book. We witness a whole range of girls in every stage of being, and with every different personality. Each girl has differences that make her incredibly complex – wants, desires, and thoughts that set her apart – but we’re also much more alike than we take credit for.If any moms ever want a look into the mind of a teenage girl, this is the perfect book. This book made me feel like Siobhan Vivian actually was a teenager. Granted, she was at one point but when adults are sometimes like “we’ve been there before and we know what it’s like”, they’re unintentionally lying. They don’t know what it’s like with all this technology and what it’s like with these specific people in this specific high school. Everything is constantly changing and it affects everybody’s experiences.Like I’ve mentioned in my review of Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters, I’m not in high school yet. I’m in eighth grade. So while everything in this book may be amplified, I’m still familiar with the topics that Siobhan touches on.I have this tendency to put high school up on a pedestal. I like to think of it as a place where I’ll finally have friends who are interested in the things that I am, freedom, and that I can be treated more like an adult. But in a way, this book shows me a far better glimpse than I’ve seen before because it’s so refreshingly honest. There’s good, bad, and ugly in this book and it all makes an impact on me.First of all, I’ll start out by saying that I’ve never read any of Siobhan’s books before. From what I’ve glimpsed of her so far, I have the feeling that she’s a bit like Kody Keplinger, with her authentic and brutally honest views on teenagers and life in general. I love reading their books because they’re actually more political than people think. They discuss the surface drama and what people are thinking and then delve into opinions and characterizations that are so spot-on, it’s like they know my thoughts.This book was also a bit of a slap in the face because every girl likes to think that she’s different than everybody else. That she has a flavor, a sparkle, a dream that makes her stand out and be utterly different. This book makes us feel united in a way, like we’re all connected by our insecurities and feelings.This book focuses on eight girls throughout it, cycling back and forth and showing the full spectrum of the girls featured on the list.There has been a tradition for years. This tradition states that each year, a list is released right before Homecoming. This list chooses the prettiest and the ugliest girls in each class. There are two freshmen girls, two sophomore girls, two juniors, and two seniors. Nobody knows who makes the list and nobody knows why. All they know is that it changes you.The freshmen girls are the ones who seem to be completely oblivious. In all their blatant naivety, they don’t know what the list does to you. When they find out, they find themselves at opposites of the spectrum, although both of their lives start to fall apart because of the list.The ugliest freshman girl is Danielle. As the list humiliatingly proclaims, “Dan the Man” is her new nickname. She is taunted in the hallways. She’s never thought before that she was particularly ugly. She is muscular, and she does swim team, but she’s not overly manly. Before the list, her only worry was on whether she would be on the varsity swim team. How did Andrew not tell her about this? How could somebody do this? Haven’t they realized that they’ve made her a social outcast? And what will her boyfriend say when he realizes that he’s dating the ugliest girl in the grade? When his friends taunt him mercilessly about dating “Dan the Man”? Her head is filled with doubts that she doesn’t know how to drown and she doesn’t know how to fix them.The prettiest sophomore is a girl named Abby. Abby has thought of herself as pretty, but she’s as surprised as anybody that she made the list. She knows that she’s more attractive than her older sister Fawn, but she’s never thought of herself as the prettiest. And Fawn always puts her down anyway, making her feel awful when she can’t make good grades or laughs at her when she gets a question wrong. So when Abby makes the list, it starts to take a toll on their relationship. Fawn is ignoring her and making her life hell, and she doesn’t even know why. Shouldn’t her sister be happy that she made the list instead of glaring at her from across the room? She’s tried to invite her to the parties she’s going to. She’s tried to hang out with her and make her feel better. And Fawn knows that Abby has trouble in math, so why not try to help her instead of making her feel worse? As the turmoil behind the list grows, Abby worries about her relationship with Fawn breaking apart.As we learn more about the sophomores, we start to see that it’s more of a contrast. Candace is almost the complete opposite of Laura, but they’re both pretty. Their personalities and relationships differ so much that Siobhan made a striking contrast between the two of them and really illustrated how different people interact.Candace has been named the ugliest sophomore girl. That doesn’t even make sense, because she’s prettier than anybody. She has a crew of followers who worship her every move and copy her styles. She knows that she is gorgeous, and everybody else knows it too. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that the list has named her the UGLIEST sophomore. Doesn’t it mean the prettiest? Isn’t there a mistake? So she thinks until she sees the description underneath her name, saying that she’s pretty on the outside, but ugly on the inside.For me, Candace was a bit of an oxymoron in the story. The person who made the list was obviously ugly on the inside, and although I liked the idea of giving Candace a lesson to learn, I just thought that it was incredibly ironic that it happened this way. The good part is that Candace seemed to understand right away what was going on after the initial shock and actually started to understand herself. I didn’t like Candace’s friends though. I thought that they were the ones who were also ugly on the inside because they’re the ones who ditch people when they decide that they aren’t cool anymore. It’s not even so much individual girls who are ugly on the inside, but it’s when they band together that they start to get it trouble. We start to see this in Candace, and she was a fascinating character to watch grow, and inspiring to see mature.The prettiest sophomore girl is named Laura. She’s been homeschooled her entire life, until her mother realizes that she has to get a job. It’s just the two of them, so Laura is used to being close to her mother. Until the list happens, she’s not planning on enjoying high school as much. She wishes that she could go back to homeschooling. But when she’s named the prettiest sophomore, she’s experiencing the climb up the social ladder. She is instantly popular, and the girls who snubbed her in P.E. last week are the ones who are complimenting her this week. But as Laura starts to realize as the book goes on, is all the attention real? How do you learn to look beyond the surface? And is her newfound popularity an illusion, or is it magical?Laura was mostly that stereotypical girl who becomes magically popular, and has to witness the consequences. However, she was not stereotypical in the other aspects of her personality. Her relationship with her mother was exquisitely done, as she toes the line between newfound freedom and heading down the wrong path. Laura as a character really was amazing in showing how relationships changed.The ugliest junior girl is one who doesn’t really care. Sarah has always been the edgier girl, the girl who wears all black and smokes cigarettes, and decides that she hates high school and the people in it. She’s too cool for everybody else. So when she’s made the ugliest junior girl, she decides to take a stand.It starts with writing UGLY on her head in permanent marker. It continues with her not bathing for a week as a protest. She will come to Homecoming and ruin it for everybody. She will disgust people and embrace herself for who she is and show the rest of them that she doesn’t care. She will laugh in their faces.Reading about Sarah was truly disgusting. Possibly one of the foulest things I’ve read about in a long time. Sarah seemed to be that girl that felt like she had something to prove. She liked to prove that she didn’t care what people thought, but she seemed to use the wrong methods. She was lying to herself about what she thought, and we got to see her grow as well. She seemed like the type of character that would need the least amount of help, but she did.I couldn’t decide how I felt about Bridget exactly. I wished that more attention would have been focused on her, but when we did, I was engrossed.Bridget was named the prettiest junior girl. The tagline underneath her name says that a lot can change in a summer. Every book seems to have the story of the girl who comes back after summer vacation to be gorgeous and popular. The only difference in this one is that Bridget knows that her summer transformation is nothing to be proud of.In Bridget’s story, we see how far we truly go for beauty and when it starts to turn unhealthy. I wished that more focus would have been brought on Bridget’s experience, but we got the gist of it.The ugliest senior girl is the one that everybody has been expecting. Jennifer’s reaction when she was named ugliest freshman girl was priceless: she slid down her locker, sobbing so hard that she threw up. She was freaking out all day. Over the next few years, she’s learned to expect it. To put anybody else other than Jennifer wouldn’t be the same. So Jennifer has been the ugliest four years running. Nothing changes her senior year, except people finally begin to take pity on her.M seethes in horror and resentment. Jennifer was the girl that was obsessed with her in eighth grade. Jennifer wouldn’t leave her alone, and insisted on doing everything together. Not only that, but Jennifer was so possessive! She put M down all the time and made her feel like crap. So it’s only karma that M became popular and Jennifer became an outcast. It’s karma for all those years of suffering as Jennifer’s friend.So when M’s friends decide to take pity on Jennifer and support her campaign for Homecoming Queen, M’s had enough. People start to take sides, and Jennifer seems so broken-down that people are shocked at M’s behavior in ignoring her. While she tries to get people to see that Jennifer doesn’t deserve it, she thinks that she’s the only one who knows the truth. When they get tired of her, they’ll forget about her which will hurt more than anything.The seniors go through experiences that focus a lot on earlier grudges and memories. It explores how the past affects the present. To be honest, I liked M a lot more than Jennifer. I used to have a friend like Jennifer, and it was terrible. So I had to take M’s side on a lot of things.There’s so much that I could go in on this about. I’m probably going to end up doing a separate book club discussion for this book. I’ve stopped this review about 2.5k just because I could probably go on spoiler-free for about 5k more. There’s so much intricacy and truth in this book that it’s hard to condense in just one review.The characters were brilliant. Siobhan Vivian seems like she can just peek into a teenage mind and weave a complex drama more complete than any way of summing up our struggles in reality. There’s so much in this and it basically covers all teenage girls.A lot of what made this stunning were the relationships. There were contrasts and new friends and old enemies and mother-daughter and everything in between. There were so many things that have happened that shouldn’t have in this book and things that people have regretted. The characters confront themselves because of this book and take a look at who they are.Like life, it didn't have a perfect ending. Although I wished that it would have been wrapped up a little more, I respected the fact that not everything could be fixed. Some things lingered to remind you of them and the mistakes that were made. Life doesn't have an undo moment, and not everything has an immediate solution. It reflected that towards the end.From naivety to calculated plots, this book holds everything. It basically talks about every issue that a girl in high school has to face, without going too heavy. Granted, there’s more, but this is about the average teen. There are so many things that made me really think about the way we treat each other and how much being pretty affects people.This book explores what it truly means to be beautiful. Clear writing, complex plot, and characters so well-written that it feels as if they are real make this book a knockout. I don’t care if you’re an adult or a teenager, you should read it. This isn’t even just a pleasure book. It helps you understand what goes on in our minds and how we affect each other. I’m definitely going to hold a book club discussion, maybe on Twitter or in a chat, for this book if anybody wants to join me because there is so much about this book that I want to talk about and spotlight.This book is so real that it’s brilliant. Plus, not only is it breathtakingly honest, but it's also enjoyable and kept me entertained the entire time. I honestly don’t know how to sum up into words. This book is life.Recommended for anybody who loves: Queen Bees and Wannabes; Boys, Girls, and Other Hazardous Materials; Before I FallPossible book club questions:Will come at a later date, and I might see if I can figure out how to hold a chat for a lot of us to talk about it. There is so much to talk about, book club question-wise, but I'm worried that I might accidentally include spoilers about the finer points of the book and what it makes you think about.http://rosalindwiseman.com/owning-up/http://operationbeautiful.com/