Author: Siobhan Vivian
Release Date: April 1, 2012
Number of Pages: 332
Synopsis from Goodreads:
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.
I first read this book last spring with my teen reading group at the library. I thoroughly enjoyed it and found myself thinking about it recently, so I decided to give it a second look. I love this book. It follows eight girls, two in each grade at a high school, that have been put on "The List". The list is distributed every fall the week before Homecoming and is made up of eight girls--again two from each grade--that have been named either the prettiest or the ugliest girl in their grade. Nobody knows who makes the list every year, but the list is stamped with the official school seal to give gravitas. It's ambitious to follow eight different characters in a relatively slim book, but Siobhan Vivian definitely pulls it off. For the first few chapters I was flipping back to the front of the book to see which girl I was reading about (freshman ugliest, junior prettiest, etc), but after awhile, the girls became distinct.
What makes a book like this important is the way it shows that ALL girls are judged. ALL girls have problems. The girls who are 'pretty' are dealing with just as much crap as their counterparts. The book touches on serious issues like anorexia, self-worth, sister relationships, jealousy, and guilt--just to name a few. The author does a great job of touching on important issues while keeping the book interesting and enjoyable. She also keeps the girls real without relying on stereotypes or stock characters.
The freshman girls are Danielle and Abby. Until the list comes out Danielle was happy. She's on the JV swim team, but on the fast track to make varsity and she is with her boyfriend, Andrew, who she met at summer camp that summer where they were both counselors. After being named ugliest freshman and saddled with the name "Dan the Man" Danielle is struggling to show everybody that the list doesn't bother her while worrying that the teasing Andrew is taking about their relationship will make him change his mind about her.
Abby is thrilled to be named prettiest freshman. She often feels like she is living under her older sister's shadow because Fern is such a good student. She hates that the list seems to be making the divide between her and her sister even wider, though.
The sophomore girls are Candace and Lauren. Candace, a drop dead gorgeous girl, has been named ugliest sophomore with the explanation that beauty isn't only skin deep. She is the queen bee of her popular group of sophomore girls, but she can see the glee in her friends' eyes that she has been called out. She quickly finds her grasp on her group slipping. Lauren is new to public school. She has always been home schooled, but after moving to a new town with her mother--who had to move into her childhood home and get a job--Lauren is experiencing a real school for the first time. After being named prettiest sophomore she finds herself with friends for the first time. The same group of girls that used to hang out with Candace.
The junior girls are Sarah and Bridget. Sarah has always been a bit of a loner. She sits on the same isolated bench everyday, smoking cigarettes and thinking her classmates are morons. She has just started to see a new boy, Milo, and she is annoyed that the list has singled her out. Determined not to just slink into the shadows, she decides writes ugliest across her forehead and decides to drop all personal hygiene up to the Homecoming dance. She wears the same clothes every day--and builds up as much of a sweat as possible--she refuses to shower or brush her teeth. She will not be ignored. Bridget has been suffering from anorexia since the beginning of the summer and even though she knows she needs help, she can not help but feel justified when she is named the prettiest junior. She tells herself that she just needs to get herself through Homecoming...and then she will let herself eat again.
The senior girls are Jennifer and Margo. Jennifer has been named the ugliest girl in her class for four years in a row. When she was named ugliest freshman, Jennifer had a embarrassing breakdown in front of the entire school. This year she is determined to embrace her title. Margo is the no-brainer. She is primed to be named Homecoming Queen and is looking forward to getting through senior year and on to the next stage of her life. She used to be best friends with Jennifer and is a bit ashamed by how their friendship dissolved. She is horrified when her two best friends decide to take Jennifer under their wing and start campaigning for her to be named Homecoming Queen. Jennifer is, of course, thrilled by the attention of two of the most popular girls in school and begins to feel hope that she will be named queen at the dance.
Overall, I really enjoyed this one. Even though following eight different girls is quite a lot, it was never overwhelming and each girl really is unique and districtive. I've read a few complaints about the lack of any true resolution, but I actually liked that. This was a week in the life of eight high school girls, to resolve all of the problems or to show real resolution to some of the issues would have rang so false in this book. If she would have wrapped up all of the storylines with little bows, I wouldn't have enjoyed this book nearly as much as I did. What makes this book so good is that it stays true to what a week in high school is really like. It's a slice of life. Don't get me wrong, there is some resolution. We find out who made the list, for example, and who gets crowned queen, but major problems like eating disorders don't magically go away.
Even though this story deals with some heavy issues, it is itself relatively light and incredibly easy to read. I cared about all of the girls on the list and think that this is an important book that actual teens would relate to and enjoy. Definitely recommend.