The List by Siobhan Vivian
At Mount Washington High School, the same thing always happens just before homecoming. The List comes out. It gives the names of two girls in each grade: one is named the prettiest in that grade, the other the ugliest. Being on the list can change your life at Mount Washington, and it does for all of the eight girls on this year’s list. Abby is ecstatic to be on the list as prettiest freshman, especially with her brainy older sister looking down at her all the time. Danielle, the other side of the freshman pair, sees the list take a toll on her relationship with her boyfriend. Lauren, prettiest sophomore, was previously homeschooled and finds that the list can help her make new friends. Candace, named the ugliest sophomore, isn’t unattractive at all, instead it’s her attitude that is horrid. Bridget, celebrated for losing so much weight, knows that she’s started something very dangerous. Sarah is a rebel and immediately writes UGLY across her forehead in permanent ink. And then there are the seniors, two girls who used to be best friends and who now are strangers, one whose path to homecoming queen seems clear and the other who has been on the list as ugliest all four years.
Vivian sets the wheels of this story in motion and her characters take over. It is a trick to create eight characters unique enough to read as individuals throughout an entire book, and Vivian does that very well. She explores the relationship between beauty and self-esteem, beauty and popularity, and the perception of beauty and its impact. Some of the girls are robbed of that feeling while others have never felt it. But it’s not just about the “ugly” girls. The perception of beauty haunts the “pretty” girls as well, creating rifts in friendships, questions about values, and eroding self-esteem in much the same way as being labeled ugly.
Vivian does not shy away from this complexity, instead she embraces it. This is foreshadowed by the reaction of the principal to discovering the list where she warns the girls that they have all been hurt by being placed on the list.
Here we have a book that is deep, complicated, and riveting reading. It’s a book that takes on some “truths” of our society and turns them on their head, in a pretty beautiful way. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic Press.