Review: The List by Siobhan Vivian

The List
by Siobhan Vivian
Series: Standalone
Released on: April 1st, 2012
Published by: Push
Rating: 3 stars
Word rating: it was okay
Reviewed by: Ellis

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An intense look at the rules of high school attraction -- and the price that's paid for them.

It happens every year before homecoming -- the list is posted all over school. Two girls are picked from each grade. One is named the prettiest, one the ugliest. The girls who aren't picked are quickly forgotten. The girls who are become the center of attention, and each reacts differently to the experience.

With THE LIST, Siobhan Vivian deftly takes you into the lives of eight very different girls struggling with issues of identity, self-esteem, and the judgments of their peers. Prettiest or ugliest, once you're on the list, you'll never be the same.

I'm not entirely sure what exactly I expected to get from The List, but I ended up quite disappointed anyway. Don't get me wrong. This is a very readable book with a nice story that moves at a quick pace, but I really slogged through some of the chapters, mostly because there were certain characters I just couldn't stand. The beginning was rough and I initially thought the writing quite juvenile, though it later became clear that this was more a reflection of the character in question than the writing itself, which is always a plus in my book. 

I think part of my puzzlement has to do with the format of this novel. Maybe it's because I've been reading so many short story collections for my English lit class lately, but this read more like a series of snapshots than a traditionally, fully plotted-out novel. This isn't a bad thing per se, and I like how open and ambiguous the ending is, especially considering the time frame only spans a week. However, I also think that this division in days of the week in combination with their respective subdivision into small chapters, where each chapter belongs to a different character, gives the whole a rather disjointed feel. I'm sorry for the confusion these last few sentences might have induced. On the plus side, we're now on an equal level of "trying to make sense of dis". 

Another consequence of splitting up the chapters and dividing over between so many different narrators is that some of the characters remain very flat and superficial, while others are a little more rounded. There is a genuine attempt to characterise these girls beyond what The Lists tells them they are, but a few are so focused on the actual list and the hubbub surrounding it that this effort never reaches its full potential. Part of the problem for me is that I expected the characters to be different, because the blurb told me they were different than what I encountered them to be once I actually read the book. I couldn't immediately find the synopsis that matches the one on my copy, so you'll just have to trust me that I'm not making this up, okay? 

Abby's joy at being named the prettiest is clouded by her sister's resentment.

Danielle worries about how her boyfriend will take the news.

Both of these are actually pretty accurate. Just so you know, Abby is the character that read very juvenile to me, but there's some depth added to her character later on. I do have to say that her sister's resentment isn't all that apparent until the later chapters, but it's definitely there. As for Danielle, she's one of the character I actively liked and I'm glad the way her story progressed. I really did not want her relationship to be affected by this, and I honestly put down the book each time I knew her boyfriend was going to react to the fall-out, because I just didn't want him to disappoint me.

Lauren is a homeschooled girl blindsided by her instant popularity.

Candace isn't ugly, not even close, so it must be a mistake.

These two fall very flat. Lauren doesn't really have a personality outside of being nice, though there is one brief moment where she realises how fleeting popularity can be, especially when it happens overnight. The reason I dreaded reading her chapters is her mother, who is just infuriating. For some unclear reason, she doesn't want her daughter to have fun or make friends. The moment Lauren starts to fit in at school, her mother forbids her from basically doing anything. I hated her. Then there's Candace, who's just the flattest character imagineable. Her only character growth is that she becomes a bit less selfish and self-absorbed by the end of the week. However, the tentative understanding that grows between these two was a development I fully supported.

Bridget knows her summer transformation isn't something to celebrate.

See, I had a feeling Bridget's story would concern an eating disorder, and I was right. What surprised me, though, is how realistically and thoughtfully her anorexia is treated. It started as her trying to lose some weight, but quickly became a tool to remain in control of her life. She was doing well for a while, but the pressure and added attention The List generates makes that she falls back in old patterns. You can very clearly see that the body Bridget sees is not the body she has. The two are completely separate things in her mind. What's important for her is sizes and numbers, and even when she reaches her goal, she can't stop seeing herself as anything other than ugly. It really drives the point home that this is a mental disorder, which I'm so grateful for, because finally someone gets it. This and the way her family reacts to her changing eating patterns 

Sarah has always rebelled against traditional standards of beauty, and she decides to take her mutiny to the next level.

Now, Sarah is the one character I truly liked, but she's also the character the blurb misrepresented most. There isn't really a rebellion against traditional beauty standards when it comes to her. She's actually very conscious of and very insecure about her looks. For someone who supposedly doesn't agree about traditional standards of beauty, she sure obsesses about them a lot. However, she was super entertaining to read about and her snark is just upper level biting sarcasm. I loved her plan of doing away with all hygiene for a week, so she could "spread her scent" over the entire gym at homecoming on Saturday. On the other hand, it was slightly unrealistic how quickly her hygiene deteriorated. Trust me, I have been there, not showering for almost a week - final, anyone? - and it's truly not that bad. 

Also, I want a Milo Ishi. There's a reason why the only pages I bookmarked all include him.

And Margo and Jennifer, ex-best friends who haven't spoken in years, are forced to confront why their relationship ended.

I was totally prepared to root for Jennifer and Margo to rekindle their friendship, but Jennifer, I just could not. She's the girl I should have identified with. I've been there, suddenly and inexplicable being dumbed by people I considered friends. Instead, I wanted to murder her, for so many reasons, most of which have to do with her pathetic levels of manipulation. Margo, on the other hand, I actually liked. Again, this was a bit of a surprise because she's the friend who so suddenly dumped Jennifer. However, it became clear that there was so much more to the situation, and I like how she doesn't start to question her reasons because of social pressure. I particularly liked the confusion she feels when people suddenly try to guilt-trip her, while conveniently forgetting about the role they had in this entire situation. 

I also mildly shipped Margo with Matthew. I appreciated how he didn't feel the need to guilt Margo into befriending Jennifer again, just because the entire school decided that Jennifer's situation is just so sad. He trusted Margo to have her reasons and realised it was not his place to act all high and mighty about this. Those are some good relationship dynamics, hence the mild shipping. There just wasn't enough story to get into hardcore shipping. 

Overall, The List was an okay book. There's nothing mind-blowing about it, although I was seriously impressed with how some of the issues were treated here. The easiest example that comes to mind is Bridget's eating disorder, which is definitely one of the more realistic and relatable portrayals I have ever come across in fiction. All I can say is, don't go into this book hoping for HEAs or resolution. Even though The List itself introduces a lot of drama in the lives of the girls and, to a certain extent, families affected, the book itself is surprisingly low on drama, which is actually quite refreshing. I like how this indicates that the overall message concerning The List seems to be that while it puts a lot of pressure on some of the girls for a limited period of time, there's nothing really life-changing about it. Like so many things about high school, this is something that will blow over, and probably not even seem that important in ten years. 


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