Published: April 1, 2012
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.
"With trembling hands, she quickly finishes pinning the dress and puts it on…then she twists her hair up, adds a bit of lipstick. She gets ready without looking in the mirror…. She doesn’t need to see herself. She already knows. She will never be pretty..."
So here’s what happens every year at Mount Washington High School. A week before Homecoming, students walk the halls in search of The List posted and scattered around the school - pinned on bulletin boards, taped to bathroom stalls, shoved in lockers, hidden in desks. This infamous List elects eight girls, two from each class, with the honor of either being The Prettiest or The Ugliest for her grade level. Sealed and embossed with MWHS’s emblem, it’s what the students of this school expect and the girls fear the most. No.no.no... it’s not a prank... it’s a tradition...
This book is both brutal and profound in several ways. I was awed at how Siobhan Vivian was able to weave this intricate story that involves some pretty harsh realities with a right amount of levity to keep me captivated but never unhinged. There were eight different girls this story follows. With Vivian’s masterful storytelling, she’s able to capture distinct voices for each so skillfully that I was never in doubt or confused at who was commanding the stage at the moment.
Leave it to Vivian to purposefully mold her own characters according to her social interpretations and not use the commonly-used stereotypes that other authors lazily fall back on. I applaud her for making the pretty cheerleader sensitive and smart, for depicting the girl-athlete as vulnerable and insecure, the smart nerd as callous and clueless, and the social outcast as deserving of her post. She made each of these girls feel real, but more importantly she makes them her own. With Vivian, you’re either going to love or despise her cast, but you have to give her credit where it’s due… she’s going to craft her characters how she interprets the world and you can’t fault her, but rather commend her for her bold characterization.
There were several reasons I rated this five stars. First being, I couldn’t stop thinking about these girls. It was daunting to see the ramifications of The Listcontinue to compound as the story unfolds. At first consideration, you’d think that only the girls labeled as The Ugliest will suffer, right? So wrong. It was sad to see how even the girls honored with the title Prettiest had resounding effects to their sense of self. Vivian shows the reader that there are emotional consequences regardless of which side of the coin you fall. So the moral of the story was that either column you ended up on, you’re prize is either pressure or pain. These young girls are being objectified and labeled according to someone’s f%ckwit idea of what beautiful means, and my heart just broke.
Secondly, Vivian takes a very real and current issue and brings it to the forefront – insecurity. I mean look at the magazines at the checkout stand where you see models and superstars. Any normal girl will see those images and compare themselves in some small way… are my teeth white enough, is my skin flawless, how about the circumference of my arms, are they toned enough, is my hair the right style??? Am I beautiful? Do I fit the mold? The questions can go on and on, but one thing can’t be ignored - there are many girls that fight a daily battle with their reflection in the mirror. It’s no secret, it’s a harsh fact.
Lastly, throughout the story, I was constantly trying to solve the puzzle of who was responsible for this masochistic prequel to Homecoming. I had my suspects, but I was so damn surprised at who the creator of The List turned out to be. Wow! Just.. wow! I want to hug Siohbhan for her evil genius. It’s the kind of twist that has you wanting to start all over from scratch, but if you just wait a moment and ponder, you’re left with a feeling of... Oh... that makes total sense. Crafty little author she is.
Overall, this story deserves some serious attention. It proves that Siohbhan Vivian is worthy of the title “Acclaimed Author” and like her other novels, I hope she receives well earned recognition. Great job Vivian!