Review: The List by Siobhan Vivian
Rating: I have no idea. No, seriously
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.
I am so conflicted about this book I honestly don’t know how to rate it. Seriously, I can’t decide.
It was intensely readable, the subject matter was fascinating if not extraordinarily painful, the concept was intriguing, most of the characters were relatable, and I cared about them. In some ways, this is a must-read for any teenage girl. If you’ve ever hated or loved or worried about the way you look, this book will speak to you (so basically… if you’re human. And particularly if you’re a female who has ever known other females).
This book artfully lays out the high school caste system and the problems with its focus on external beauty. How important it is not only to feel beautiful, but to be seen as beautiful.
While the list is told in third person, the POV is split between eight girls: the prettiest and the ugliest from all four grades. I happen to like books with split POVs, but eight sure is a lot. Yet it happened to be one of the aspects I liked the most.
Vivian pulls it off. Each girl feels different. Of course we don’t get to spend too much time with any of them, and some of the characters I would have loved to get to know better. Each could easily have carried her own book. But none of the girls feel shallow. Each has a complicated life and nuanced emotions. Particular standouts were Bridget, Candace, and Danielle, though I also enjoyed Lauren and Sarah. Even Abby.
There wasn’t a plot, really. But that’s not the point of this book. The point is to watch each of these girls, and their whole school, really, react to the brutality of those harsh black and white labels. Ugly. Pretty. Blessings and burdens both. I was sucked into this book right from the get go. It was very addicting.
I loved Vivian’s honesty in portraying these girls’ emotions. She mostly achieves the balancing act here and manages to show the progression of each main character. My opinions about them changed too. The interesting thing was, I found myself judging the characters just like they judged each other, particularly seniors and ex-best friends Margo and Jennifer. I made assumptions about them that were proved entirely wrong at the end.
Which brings me to my largest issue with this book– the way it ended. As in, the fact that it DIDN’T. I loved the slow reveal of who made the list. It made a lot of sense and fit in with the characters. It made me totally reevaluate the person who did it. But then the book just ended.
I wanted to know more about what happened next. Vivian set up eight different scenarios and I would have actually liked some resolution from them. I blinked at the acknowledgments page for like a minute, wondering if I’d accidentally skipped the last chapter.
Abby’s story is utterly unresolved. There’s a huge question mark for Lauren’s future. I’m actually in anxiety not knowing what happens to Bridget. I wonder why Vivian chose to leave off where she did. I seriously cared about these characters so much that I wanted to know.
Do I want or expect each story to end in a pretty red bow? No. Certainly not. It wouldn’t fit this painful narrative. But as I have a thing about endings, I would have actually appreciated one.
In the end, the book is excellent in the way it portrays the cruel, self-loathing world of teenagers. It feels very realistic, less Gossip Girl and more My So-Called Life. But it’s also like My So-Called Life in that it feels like it was cancelled after the first season. It needed more episodes, or at least a TV movie finale.
Bonus My So-Called Life, because I can: