Monday, May 14, 2012

This List by Siobhan Vivian

Darling followers and readers? I think I'll be blogging a little less these upcoming weeks. I've been dealing with some health problems since late March and I've developed anemia, which has left me feeling sluggish. The stress of that, my high school graduation in three weeks, and the pressure to keep up the reviews for all of you is breaking me down and I need to shuffle around my priorities. I'll still be around and blogging, of course. I've got some scheduled posts and I'll still be writing reviews, but I'm taking it slow.

Thank you for understanding. Really, thank you. I love all of you so much. I've begun monetizing and entering affiliate programs so I can put some money into this blog and show you just how much I appreciate all of you. Hopefully, I'll have enough one day soon for something special.

Title: The List
Author: Siobhan Vivian
Publisher: Push
Release Date: April 1, 2012
Pages: 332 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: Bought it.
Purchase: Amazon; Barnes & Noble; Book Depository

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. Each one has a different reaction to the experience.

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

Danielle worries about how her boyfriend will take the news.

Lauren is a homeschooled girl blindsided by her instant popularity.

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

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

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

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

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, one you're on the list, you'll never be the same.


Novels with more than three points of view tend to give me a headache and/or annoy me due to all the POV shifts. A book about beauty and how one group of high school girls perceive themselves because of a list, told through eight different points of view? It could be fantastic or it could be a fantastic disaster. Somehow, The List did what I didn't think it could and fell in the middleground.  A novel with ambition to do something great and deliver the right messages to girls who could really use them fell disappointingly flat.

I very nearly put down the novel just after I started it. Third-person present tense is very difficult for me to read because I feel very few authors write it well. Vivian is not one of them. She paced the story well by rotating the girls' turns as narrators, forcing the reader to keep turning the pages so they could read on about whichever narrator they latched onto, but the way she used third-person present tense came off as bland and disconnected me from the girls. With a novel like this, readers need to be connected to the story for it to have any chance of success.

If I could give the novel stars for effort, I'd give it at least one more. It is unfortunate that girls are perceived as less attractive or ugly if they're "too masculine" in our society and that skinniness is held up so high as the standard of beauty that girls fall into the deadly trap of anorexia trying to be that skinny. These are only two of the many problems tackled in the novel and the criticisms made of all these troubling perceptions of beauty are genuine. With such a wide variety of narrators, readers are sure to find at least one they identify with and want to read more about.

When calculating in all the blank pages and pages declaring which day it is, the book turns out to be roughly 320 pages. This gives each of the eight narrators 40 pages that are solely focused on them--and that's not factoring in that the girls weren't all given equal attention. Some took larger portions of the story and left others with only the bare minimum attention they had to be given as one of the girls on the list. Sarah's sections in particular were lacking; her pieces consist mostly of her stinking herself up and fighting with her friend-and-possibly-more Milo. The girls needed more time to develop and their characterization remains static, which lends its hand to an unsatisfying conclusion.

This, I think, is the biggest issue of The List: development. With so few pages to fully develop each girl and make her feel real, the issues they're having to deal with--Danielle's insecurities about her femininity because she's such a great athlete that others consider her too masculine and Bridget's body issues--are weakened. Their stories are merely rough outlines of the poignant pieces they could be with more care and it's a disservice to very real problems girls like me deal with every day.

I do think The List is worth a read, but it's the kind of book you need to be absolutely certain you want to read for very certain reasons so your time isn't wasted. I would recommend it for someone who wants to write about issues young women face in high school and wants to see how it can go wrong in order to learn from it. Vivian had the right ideas, but her lack of development was what sunk the novel and made it appear more like an outline of a masterpiece than a true masterpiece.

3 stars! (More like 2.5 stars.)

What am I reading next?: Silence by Michelle Sagara