alexandra alger


Siobhan Vivian’s The List

My newest guilty pleasure is ordering a book on my iPad and starting to read it right then and there, in the middle of the day, when there are other more important things to do–like work on my novel revision. My latest download was The List, a YA contemporary novel by an author with an incredibly cool name, Siobhan Vivian. On her blog, literary agent Molly Jaffa called it one of her favorite books of 2012. I’d never heard of it, so I idly checked out the first page on Amazon. Well. I had to download it immediately. This is the first sentence: “For as long as anyone can remember, the students at Mount Washington High have arrived at school on the last Monday of September to find a list naming the prettiest and the ugliest girl in each grade.” Irresistible, right? Vivian gives a voice to each of the eight girls during the week before the homecoming dance. Being named one of the prettiest confers instant fame and popularity–or for those who were already popular, like Margo, affirmation of the status quo. Could anything go wrong once you’ve been named one of the prettiest girls in school? As it turns out, yes. Being on the list pushes Bridget into the grip of anorexia just as she’s trying to escape it. The friends Lauren attracts, thanks to her new status, convinces her mother to withdraw her from the school against her will. Counter-intuitively, the girls on the ugliest list weren’t as bad off as I expected them to be. I figured they’d be devastated, humiliated to the point of disfunction. That’s how I would’ve been. I would’ve had to switch schools. I would’ve needed therapy. One girl, Jennifer, who’s made the list every year of high school–a record–is indeed a mess. Thank goodness she’s a senior, because she needs to get out of town, asap. But the other girls rally They work through the shame and anger. Granted, they aren’t actually physically unattractive, and two of the three have boyfriends. But wait a minute. Am I saying these girls aren’t ugly enough to be on the ugly list? If I start to judging who is and who isn’t, I’m no better than the list maker. Ms. Vivian: I’m better, I swear! If I had the power to put an end to the list, I’d do it. I really would.

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