Every year on the Monday before homecoming, it appears in the halls of Mount Washington High School–the list. It’s a ranking of the four prettiest and the four ugliest girls from each class at Mount Washington. If you’re a senior girl and deemed the prettiest, odds are you’re a shoe-in for homecoming queen.
Siobhan Vivian’s The List begins on the fateful Monday and follows the eight girls who were placed on the list this year. There’s Margo, the senior who sees her ranking as prettiest singer as just one more step toward her coronation. That is, until her former best friend Jennifer is named ugliest in her class for the fourth straight year and it appears a groundswell campaign could give Jennifer the homecoming crown.
There’s Sarah, deemed the ugliest in her class and determined to make sure the entire school and her possible boyfriend Milo suffer the consequences. To this end, Sarah decides she’ll stop bathing for the week, showing up at the homecoming dance in the same outfit she’s worn since Monday. Also on the ugly list is freshman Danielle, part of the swim team who is feeling distant from her boyfriend that she met at summer swim camp. Her perceived lack of beauty didn’t matter to him then, but will the pressure of his friends keep them apart?
There’s the pretty girl, Candice who gets on the ugly list and suffers from self-image problems, thinking she’s “too fat” and challenging herself to extreme diet down to a small side so she can keep the mantle of pretty for another year and be seen as beautiful by her friends. Even though she craves food, she keeps telling herself it’s not a good idea to eat, much less enjoy food. She must keep her supermodel thin figure or else all is lost.
Then there’s Abby who’s overcome her sister’s reputation to be included on the list. Of course, Abby is also failing a couple of classes and is hoping she won’t be grounded from the big dance and events.
While many of those struggles may sound like your standard “young adult angst novel,” Vivian owns them in The List giving each girl her own voice, identity and authenticity. As horrified as we may be (and are supposed to be) by the girl struggling with her self-image issues, Vivian wisely puts up inside her mind enough to help us understand her thinking process–even if we don’t necessarily agree with it. And while none of the characters in the novel are quite as well rounded or interesting as the lead from Not That Kind of Girl, Vivian is still able to tap into the minds of high school girls and give us a authentic feeling world and story.
And for those of you worried that this novel will take the after school special way out with a happy ending for everyone, that’s not the case. Vivian doesn’t solve any of these girls problems by the final pages. There is hope for some to become to accept who they are and not be merely defined by their place on the list, but there’s no neat bow to tie things up in the final chapters.
Vivian also wisely looks into the legacy behind the list and the identity of this year’s compiler may be come as a surprise to you. It’s these elements as well as some solid storytelling that elevate The List in the young adult genre field.
If you’re like me, it may not be your usual choice of reading material. But give it a chance and it may just surprise you.