The List by Siobhan Vivian published in 2012.
“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 book has made me so thankful that I’m finally out of high school.
The endless ego-centrism over minor events such as the homecoming dance and the ever pressing need to fit it or prove who you are to the world is exhausting—although I say this as if these traits aren’t still with many people when they leave high school.
In The List eight teenage girls, two from each grade level, are chosen as either the prettiest or ugliest of their year. The maker of the list is anonymous and supposedly different each year, yet they hold an incomprehensible amount of power over the entire student body. These eight girls are all affected differently based on their own individual personality and the ranking they receive. Relationships crumble, gender identities are explored, metaphorical masks are put on and even an eating disorder is brought on, which I’ll be talking about more later.
When I found out there were eight main characters, who swap perspectives on a chapter basis in a somewhat random order, I was very nervous. Not only are there the main eight girls, but there are side characters such as boyfriends, classmates, parents and siblings. I was afraid of forgetting characters names, getting them mixed up or blurring the individual storylines. Yet surprisingly, this didn’t happen. The characterization was quite strong, each girl was very different so it wasn’t easy to get them confused. Although, the plot was spread a bit thin. Since this book is only 336 pages there isn’t much room to delve into the lives of eight people. In fact, with some simple math, anyone can find out that this only leaves each character with 42 pages each, and some were focused on more such as the two senior girls. 42 pages are definitely not enough to tell the story that each character deserves, and this can be seen through many plot holes.
I have to admit that I really liked the very last line, it punched me in the gut and gives the reader something to think about even after they close the book. This is something a good ending should do. The sinking realization that the thing she fought so hard to attain, the title of homecoming queen, is actually meaningless.
“Obviously the rhinestones wouldn’t be diamonds, but Margo had always assumed the tiara would be metal.
It is plastic.”
Even though the last line tickles me, the overall ending of the story was somewhat disappointing. This is a book that definitely could have benefited from an epilogue to tie up loose ends. There are so many questions I had when I closed the book that left such an unsatisfying taste in my mouth. Did the list get passed onto the next year? If so, who was gifted the responsibility of writing it? Does the principal ever find out who wrote it? Did Bridget recover from her eating disorder? Does Sarah finally admit her feelings to Milo? All great questions, all unanswered by the end of the novel. Speaking of some factors that were never addressed, I was hoping that someone would question why there is no official list of best and worst looking male students. I understand that this was supposed to be a commentary on the pressure of teenage girls to depend on their physical appearance, but I was hoping someone within the novel would notice the double-standard that existed between the male and female students.
I mentioned before that some heavy topics were discussed, but the one I want to focus on is Bridget’s eating disorder. The most impacting character, in my opinion, was Bridget and how she struggled with eating disorders. Interestingly enough, the words eating disorder, bulimia or anorexia are never mentioned, but it is made abundantly clear that Bridget has fell victim to this mental illness. Despite being declared as one of the prettiest girls in school, she is far from happy. In fact, this only puts more pressure on her to fit this image of perfection. Denial is common for Bridget, as she is constantly trying to convince herself that her condition is not that bad. It ranges from experimenting with a disgusting juice cleanse to skipping meals to even attempting to vomit in the school’s washroom. It was truly uncomfortable to read but in the best way, since it forces the reader to open their eyes and embrace how ugly eating disorders can truly be, and how societal pressures can make these disorders so much more dangerous.
Overall, this is an interesting concept to explore within a novel and was written fairly well. I would recommend it to individuals that are either in high school or have just recently exited high school though since it does have themes most engaging for young people.