Thursday, September 27, 2012

The List - Siobhan Vivian

I picked up this book because Veronica Roth recommended it on her blog.  Now, I am not in the habit of taking recommendations from just any blog (and, yet, apparently I expect you to take recommendations from me?  Hmmm...), but this is Veronica Roth.  She wrote one of my surprise favorite series of the year.  So, I had to at least give it a shot.

The List is the first young adult novel I have read in many years that actually takes place in present day and has no elements of science fiction or glimpses of the apocalypse.  Vivian writes a very realistic picture of modern, American high school.  While reading, I was reminded in a small way of the time that my homeschooled best friend's mom came up to be in high school and begged me to assure her that Mean Girls was nothing like real public high school.  Convincing her that the satire was actually fairly realistic, if exaggerated, was painful.  If that concerned mother read this book, we would probably have a very similar conversation.  Except, The List is not a satire, and, while I have been out of high school for many years now, I can say with confidence that something like this could completely happen in a wealthy suburban school like the one I attended.  

The plot is simple.  Every year, on the Monday before Homecoming, an anonymous list is posted around Mount Washington High.  The list names the prettiest and ugliest girl in each grade.  What Vivian focuses on is the effects this lists has on the girls who are named.  That's the premise.  I doubt that I need to detail for you how the story goes.  The downfall of Vivian's work is that it is predictable for any girl who has gone through high school.  You know what to expect and it follows basically as expected. I do not, however, see that as a downfall.  To me, the strength of Vivian's writing was not in her plot, but rather her characters.  It is easy to see these girls as real people, their struggles and insecurities revealed on the page in such a revealing fashion that they would surely be mortified if they knew we were reading them.  Any girl who has been through high school should be able to resonate with at least one of the girls named on the list.  If I am being honest, this story reminded me a bit too much of feelings that I had about myself in high school.  If I am being really honest, this story reminded me of a bit too much of feelings I still have about myself.  I was encouraged, though, to look at those girls, see my high school self, and realize how much progress I have made since that time.

With eight girls on the list, there are a lot of characters to keep track of, but Vivian has clearly been intentional about not introducing more people than she needs.  Each story is unique and will connect with a different type of reader.  The List is good, not great, but good.  I appreciate so much the transparency that Vivian offers on behalf of each character and her understanding that being the prettiest girl can be just as difficult, in different ways, as being the ugliest.  For a young adult, easy to read book, she is tackling intense but real subject matter: eating disorders, popularity, peer pressure, sex, individualism, intelligence, kindness, and honesty.  In my opinion, too few books for teenagers are dealing with these issues in an upfront manner. Teenage girls could use more books like The List to serve as a mirror and an eye-opener to their own high school experience. 

What books take you back to your high school experience - in good or bad ways?  Do you think fiction writing is a good way to teach teenagers the truth about some of these tough issues?

Pages: 336
Date Completed, September 23, 2012

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