Tuesday, August 7, 2012
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. (courtesy of Goodreads)
The List is a breath of fresh air. I love contemporary YA novels, but they are often are so similar that the plots and titles become indistinguishable. Siobhan Vivian's The List stands out from the crowd. It's a hard hitting book showing how the effects of being lifted up onto a pedestal or stomped into oblivion can be devastating or empowering or both.
The writing method sets the book apart from most others. It is told from the alternating points of view of the eight girls on The List, Ms. Beautiful and Ms. Ugly from each grade. Siobhan took a risk by using so many voices. I loved how Siobhan created eight distinct personalities, each with different levels of popularity and different attitudes about the list. Seeing the aftermath of The List from all angles added a depth to the book that first person or third person limited simply cannot. I've read reviews that said that so many voices was confusing and, to tell the truth, it was a little bit. Fortunately, the hardcover book jacket had a little snippet about each character which I would look at to job my memory when the voice switched. I didn't mind having to refer to my cheat sheet, and I was eventually able to remember each character on my own.
There are characters who are easy to like and characters who are hard to like. You have mean girls, shy girls, popular/nice girls, bitter girls, sporty girls, etc. Even though several of the girls were people who I would have hated and who would have hated me in high school, I liked all of them in this book. My favorite kind of book is where you love the characters not because they're nice, but because you understand them. Even though the points of view changed often, I felt like I understood the motivations of each girl, whether I agreed with her actions or not.
With so many voices and sub-plots it would be easy for the book to wander aimlessly, but the plot always moved steadily forward. It's not the type of story with endless twists and turns, but there were surprises to the plot. Not too many, however. The girls largely acted in the way you'd expected people with their personality traits to act. You could think of this negatively as predictable. Or you could choose (as I did) to think of it positively as realistic.
So realistic in fact that the book was sometimes hard to read. I've never heard of a list of the most beautiful and ugliest girls being spread throughout a school, but I can easily see it happening. The plot felt like a train wreck - painful to watch, but you can't take your eyes off it. I hated seeing the List bring down characters that I liked - even those who really did deserve it. There are no winners when it comes to the List. The book had a dark tone that put me in a down mood for the rest of the day. It's the uneasy "there but by the grace of God go I" feeling.
The List is an extremely well done, harshly realistic novel. It's an easy and quick read, but not the light one I expected. Don't read it if you want to stay in a cheerful mood. Definitely pick it up, if you want to read a strong take on the timeless social mind games of high school.