Sunday, June 3, 2012

The List

After months and months of waiting (seriously... months) The List by Siobhan Vivian was finally available at the library. I couldn't help but be interested in the concept: eight girls at Mount Washington High are picked as the prettiest or the ugliest girls (two girls from each year) and ranked on this list that comes out the Monday of homecoming. The story then follows the girls through the rest of the week. I really only read teen fiction anymore if there's something about it that interests me in particular, and I really wanted to see how the book would work as a character study.

A synopsis, from BN:
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 read an article that the book was originally about only one character, Jennifer, the girl picked "ugliest" for all four years, but was then changed to follow all the girls. I think this was a good decision, because all of them would obviously be affected, but in turn we saw so little of each of them. The book flew by, but I don't think the premise would have been strong enough to make it any longer. But as the book stands, I really enjoyed it.

It was a little hard to keep track of all the girls, and I found myself flipping back constantly to the copy of the list in the front of book. Thank god to whatever editorial decision put that there! Not only were there eight girls, but eight groups of friends and eight dilemmas.

A bit spoilery: The most fleshed out storyline was Bridget's, the prettiest junior and the girl with the eating disorder, because her story was the one that crossed over with Abby's, the prettiest freshman. My least favorite of the girls was Sarah. She was so self-hating and obviously the most damaged of the bunch, but we didn't find anything out about her! There was such potential for backstory and to really flesh her out and make her a complicated character, but the structure of the book couldn't allow for that. She could have carried her own book. But because she didn't get the time she deserved, she felt cardboard and boring and I was really thankful for the one chapter of hers that was only two pages long. My favorite girl was Candance. She had the biggest arc, and I loved seeing her change from total bitch to an actual, true friend. That made me happy. And I was glad Margot was miserable at the end. And I thought Jennifer was no better than Margot for doing what she did.

This is one of those books that I want more high school girls to read. Along with Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. And the Stupid Girls song by Pink. Girls are completely oblivious to how cruel and superficial they can be, and I know even I was guilty of this when I was in high school. My group of friends changed dramatically when I went to college and when I moved back home, and I feel that I'm more honest with my friends now than I ever was. Some of those friends are the same, some are different. But I know more about myself, more about who and what I want to be, and that is the inherent problem with high schoolers. They don't know who they want to be yet, and they can't figure that out until they start thinking for themselves, which is near impossible between the strict curriculums, the teachers and the prescribed classes, and parent's ideals. College is great because it finally lets kids think for themselves.

I'm getting away from myself now. I like to see books like this, teaching kids to have an open mind. Everyone is so full of judgement these days. I hate books like Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars because all they are doing is promoting a superficial society, where handbags and cell phones denote your status and your friends, and where secrets reign. Whatever happened to being nice to someone for who they are? For keeping friends who have the same interests as you and make you feel good about yourself, instead of keeping up an appearance and a social standing? Try to be nice to people. Try to teach your kids to be nice to people. See the good in people, and don't give in to the cruelty in people. And for godsakes, don't be a stupid bitch.

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