When I was in middle school, I wrote a story that was printed in the school lit magazine. It was about a girl that is so obsessed with the upcoming dance and what’s she’s going to wear that she forgets to look both ways crossing the street and is fatally injured in a car crash. Yes, I was an angry teenager. It was this kind of juvenile catharsis that I expected from The List by Siobhan Vivian. I gleaned from the cover flap that the story revolves around an actual list of the prettiest and ugliest girls in each grade. Apparently it comes out every year right before homecoming and somehow no one knows who makes it and the school administration does absolutely nothing about it. I imagined “pretty girls” and “ugly girls” discovering they had more in common than they thought. I saw an eating disorder somewhere in there. And I hoped for at least one pretty girl getting blood dumped on her or being horribly disfigured in an accident. Entertaining, maybe. But I’ve (almost) moved on from all the bitterness and insecurity of my teenage years. As a mature and confident adult I find reading about these kinds of stories shallow and boring.
I was wrong. And right. This is undeniably a book about body image and identity. There is, indeed, a girl with an eating disorder. But that’s just a hook. Vivian uses the list and the inevitable drama it creates as a way to drop a bomb into the lives of girls who are fully realized characters all on their own. They are worried their boyfriend is ashamed of them. They hate their mothers. They lost their virginity and aren’t ready for the emotional consequences. They just don’t want to be friends anymore. With alternating chapters from the voice of each girl on the list, readers can dip in and out of these girls’ lives drawing the larger thematic connections where they want. I have to hand it to Vivian for holding the plot together across eight different points of view. By the end, I not only felt I really knew each girl, but I really wanted to know who wrote the list. And then I remembered that I’m a mature and confident adult…and stopped judging books by their cover.