Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Undercover Wednesday :: THE LIST

So, I'm a *little* late to the party on this one, but I recently read Siobhan Vivian's The List, which came highly recommended by several friends, and I was so impressed I just had to share my thoughts on this book.

From GoodreadsAn 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.

I found The List to be fast-paced and full of authentic voice. The story takes place over the course of one Mount Washington High Homecoming Week, beginning on Monday, the day the infamous list is posted. 
It's a long standing, carefully guarded tradition, one that's dreaded by some and revered by others. Eight girls are named -- four deemed the prettiest of their class, four deemed the ugliest -- and from there the story jumps from protagonist to protagonist as each girl's life slowly unravels in the wake of the list. 

Admittedly, the idea of eight narrators gave me pause. Going in, I was pretty sure I'd have a hard time keeping all the girls organized in my head, and I was certain I lacked the emotional depth to care about all of them equally. But, Vivian does a fantastic job of giving each girl a unique storyline and background -- distinct friends, varying relationship statuses, compelling family members. It was easy to keep everyone straight, and easy to empathize with each individual's situation.

I went into this book knowing I'd feel bad for the "ugly" girls, but I was surprised at how much sympathy I felt for the "pretty" girls. Nobody has an easy go of it in The List. Every girl feels the sting of a public label, and every girl has to come to terms with the fallout of being openly and unwillingly judged. In addition to struggling with her friends, family, and/or boyfriend, each girl must also face up to her self-image and her personal standard of beauty as it relates to the standards of the people around her: 
What makes someone beautiful? Is beauty what a mirror reflects back at us? Is beauty something we feel inside? Something we emote to those around us? Whose job is it to make us feel beautiful?

There's an element of mystery to The List, one that propels the story forward as the eight girls move through Homecoming Week: Who was responsible for writing and distributing the list? Each protagonist has her suspicions, and the new principal, young and relatively hip, is dead-set on finding the person responsible. As the week came to a close and the story began to wrap up, I had a pretty good idea of who authored the list, yet I was so absorbed with the girls and their stories, I was happy to keep turning pages. While the novel's ending didn't shock me, it was certainly satisfying and definitely made me think.

I found The List equal parts entertaining and profound. Siobhan Vivian manages to do what many contemporary young adult authors attempt but never quite manage -- she impart very important messages about individuality, peer pressure, popularity, social norms, bullying, and conflicting ideas of beauty without ever coming across as preachy. 

The List is a definite recommend!


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