The List by Siobhan Vivian (review copy) - It happens every September– the list is posted all over school. Two girls are picked from each year. One is named the prettiest, one the ugliest.
The girls who aren't picked are quickly forgotten. The girls who are become the centre of attention, and each reacts differently to the experience.
With THE LIST, Siobhan Vivian deftly takes you into the lives of eight very different girls struggling with issues of identity, self-esteem, and the judgements of their peers. Prettiest or ugliest, once you're on the list, you'll never be the same. From Goodreads.
Having loved the Burn for Burn trilogy Siobhan Vivian co-authored with Jenny Han, I was really excited to read Vivian's novel The List when I heard it was being published in the UK. Covering the topics of beauty and body image, The List sounded right up my street, and it was such a wonderful, thought-provoking novel.
Every September at Mount Washing, a list is released that will affect the lives of eight female students. The list announces the prettiest and ugliest girl in each grade, and how they are seen by their fellow students and themselves is altered. This year, the prettiest girls are Abby, Lauren, Bridget and Margo, and the ugliest girls are Danielle, Candace, Sarah and Jennifer. New found confidence, insecurity, taunts and mocking, sympathy, a new perspective, the suspicion of others, family issues and rebellion are experienced by the eight girls in the week leading up to the Homecoming Dance. Surprises - some good and some bad - come their way, as the girls discover that the list can only hurt.
This is such a brilliant book! The title of ugliest and prettiest affects each girl in such different ways, both in how they see themselves, and how others treat them. Abby, a popular and pleasant freshman, is flattered to be named the prettiest freshman, and likes how the boys in the grade above now know who she is, but she wishes she got on better with her super smart, geeky older sister. Danielle is announced ugliest freshman, the list insinuating that she looks like a boy. She's upset by being on the list, and by boys in the grade above hurling abuse at her, but at least her boyfriend doesn't care - right? Lauren has just moved to Mount Washington, and is going to public school for the first time since being home schooled. Being named prettiest sophomore, she's suddenly making friends with girls who weren't interested before. Candace, however, was named the ugliest sophomore, the list commenting on how mean she can be, and her friends ditch her for Lauren now the truth is out. Bridget is the prettiest junior, the list acknowledging the weight she lost over Summer. But she's starting to put it back on, and she feels she's unworthy of the title, the list exacerbating her insecurities and her issues with food, leading to her starving herself - again. Bolshie and angry Sarah, the ugliest junior, is sick of the school's obsession with all things shallow, like the list and being crowned Homecoming Queen. They think she's ugly? She'll show them ugly! As prettiest senior, people are starting to be suspicious that Margo wrote the list. Although she tries to pretend it doesn't matter, she wants to be seen as perfect, maybe then Matthew will notice her. Jennifer is the ugliest senior, making it four years on the trot she's been on the ugly list. But some think things have gone too far, and she's shocked to find the popular girls extending a hand of friendship.
I don't want to say too much more about the story as we follow each girl over the course of six days, and so events happen quite quickly. What I really loved about The List is how it doesn't focus very much on how these girls actually look. We know Lauren has waist-length blonde hair, that Sarah's hair is dark, and Jennifer is overweight, but otherwise, there's very little description, if any, on how the girls look. The List isn't about how the girls look, but how they are seen - by themselves and others. It's with this lack of physical description that Vivian plays with society's idea of beauty: we are told what's beautiful and what's unattractive, and we believe and act on what we're told. The List is a reflection of society; it takes place in a high school setting with teenagers, but the list could be magazines and the media, and the school students all of us, judging people - famous or otherwise - and ourselves on what we're told is and isn't attractive about the female form. The subject is dealt with deftly but subtly within the narrative, with us readers getting emotionally involved in the individual stories. We can see ourselves in the eight girls, as they struggle with their self-esteem and insecurities, and with how their peers now treat them, whether throwing slurs their way, or suddenly wanting to be their friends.
The List is a fantastic feminist novel, and one that made me think so much, it led to me I writing about how beauty simply doesn't matter. It's such an incredible book, and one I'll definitely be recommending to every teen girl I meet!
Thank you to Mira Ink for the review copy.
Published: 7th April 2016
Publisher: Mira Ink
Siobhan Vivian's Website