Hot or Not: The List by Siobhan Vivian

I’m attracted to books about body image, but I have to admit that most of the ones I’ve tried to read recently have gone to the DNF pile pretty quickly. Few of them had anything particularly new to say, and I wasn’t blown away by the writing enough to struggle through the cliched messages.

I wasn’t planning to read The List. It sounded like just another book that would frustrate me. However, when it received high praise by several reviewers I trusted, and when Ginger graciously offered me a copy, I decided to give it a shot. Admittedly, I’m not sure that The List said anything I’ve never read before, but I’m perfectly okay with that because Vivan’s writing and characterization kept me glued to the book.

In The List, Homecoming week is marked each year by the release of a list naming the ugliest and prettiest girls of each class (complete with pithy, snarky commentary about why each girl was selected). Nobody knows who writes the list, but it’s authenticity is assured with the use of an official Mount Washington High School stamp that was stolen years ago when the tradition started. The list can make or break the chosen girls, but it is as much their reactions to the selection as their actual appearances that shapes their popularity.

Siobhan Vivan follows each of the eight girls on the list over the course of Homecoming week. The list gets to each girl in a different way. Some girls forge new friendships and relationships, feeling noticed for the first time, while others break off older ones through their self-destructive behavior.  Some”pretty” girls struggle with the pressure to look perfect, fighting eating disorders and ignoring schoolwork, while some of the “ugly” girls go too far in reinforcing their perceived appearance or in trying to break free of it. Whether “ugly” or “pretty,” Vivan reveals the vulnerability, imperfection, and humanity of each multifaceted girl.

Eight characters can be difficult to keep straight, and I found myself flipping back to the list that was posted at the beginning of the book quite often at first. As I got to know each girl, though, it became easy to trace their individual plots and development. Any of the characters chosen could have taken up a book of her own; The List offers just the briefest snapshot of their lives. Altogether, though, these snapshots create a jigsaw puzzle that portrays the pains of adolescence for virtually any teen girl. Given the wide array of characters, there is likely someone within these pages with whom nearly every girl will identify.

The List is a book packed with commentary about beauty, self-perception, and popularity that will be sure to get young girls thinking and talking. Its readability and universal theme makes The List an ideal pick for reluctant readers and teen book clubs.

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