Thursday, March 22, 2012

Review: The List by Siobhan Vivian

Siobhan Vivian really knows how to nail down the female teen brain: the mind games, the cruelness, the frenemy situation, and the hopes and dreams of girls who are faced with daily peer pressure, daily blasts from the media about whether they are thin enough, and so much more. The List is a look into the mind games females play with each other.

Synopsis: 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. (Goodreads.com)


There are several different characters in this book and fortunately, for the most part, all the voices are distinct and have their own unique voice. Siobhan Vivian digs into what makes high school both fabulous and totally horrible through the various situations the characters go through. One character goes from being Queen Bee to the person everyone pointedly ignores. A homeschool girl goes from obscurity to total popularity all because of a mysterious List that says she has something special. The fact is, all these girls have something special about them but high school is not the easiest time to discover those talents. In fact, those talents can make you the target of bullies and classmate cruelty.

While this is a fictional story, it rings with the truth of today's high school experiences. That havoc a list, a rumor, an innuendo can create in high school is enormous. It somehow seems even worse when it is girl cutting down another girl. Of course, it's awful when teen boys critique and criticize girls bodies but the sense of competition between girls in this book stands out in particular. As one becomes the new hot thing, someone else tumbles down to the bottom of the high school heap and it is a long and painful fall. You cannot help but feel awful for these girls, even the girls who are suddenly the new "it" girl because it is obvious that status is a mere fifteen minutes of fame.

I love reading Siobhan Vivian's books because she is not afraid to critique and examine what makes high school so difficult for girls. The pressure to be successful and popular is immense. It's not just enough to be smart or pretty because there is always someone trying to take you down. This is not an innocent look at high school. It's not a light and fluffy read. There is a lot of hurtful actions and words in this book but I think it's going to really resonate with high school readers. There is something in each of these characters to identify with and realize that a little bit of you is in this story. Maybe you're the mean girl, maybe you're the queen bee who is about to be brought low, maybe you're trying to rebel against it all and just make it out of high school unscathed. It is not an easy venture by any means. Vivian's writing style is fresh and dynamic and mimics the way teens today think and talk. It doesn't have that fake-teen feel to it but rather, you get the impression that these girls (which are fairly archetypal it should be said) could be found at any school across the world. That is perhaps the most powerful part of this story because no matter that Margo, Danielle, Jennifer and the others are fictional, there are these girls suffering and creating havoc in high school for their fellow female students.

There is a war going on in a lot of ways between high school girls and I truly felt like Siobhan Vivian is giving readers an inside look at it. This is a very timely book given the issues women across the nation are facing as reproductive rights, contraception, and sexuality are being bandied about like they mean nothing when in fact all these things have huge repercussions for today's high school students, male and female alike.

Siobhan Vivian is an intelligent and thoughtful writer and I always come away from her stories feeling empowered. I hope other readers will have similar reading experiences.

The List is available on April 1st from Push/Scholastic. Be sure to head on over to That Cover Girl to read an interview with Siobhan about the cover for The List.

Other reviews:
Bildungsroman reviews The List
YA Lit Ramblings reviews The List
Ladybug Storytime reviews The List

ARC provided by publisher for review.

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