Every year at Mount Washington High School, an anonymous list is posted detailing the prettiest and ugliest girl in every year. For each of the eight girls on the list – it can be the making, or breaking of them. In Siobhan Vivian’s The List each of the chosen girls has a story to tell and their reactions may not be what you expect.
Eight perspectives are cleanly presented to the reader over a single week. Watching the fallout from the morning of the list’s appearance and across the week, Vivian tracks each of the girls through the emotional turmoil and social manoeuvrings that occur as a result. Each character is fully fleshed – they are sympathetic beings in a horrible situation.
A personal favourite is Danielle, the freshmen selected as the ugliest. A confident girl because of her interest in sports, specifically swimming, her strong frame is at odds with conventional beauty. The impact of the list on her self-esteem is heart breaking demonstrating swiftly how peer pressure can tear holes through self possession and pride in one’s achievements.
Understandably Vivian has utilised third person to keep the characters defined and it is admirable that she successfully manages to keep their voices and stories separate throughout. In juggling, the author has been able to depict a myriad of reactions on each side of the labelling, as well as supporting characters reactions in turn.
There is a huge cast of characters and at times this can prove problematic when, investing emotionally in one character, the reader to be thrust into the next one. There is a lot of story, clearly delineated story, but not much time in which to sink into a character’s specific story which can be frustrating. Every reader will find themselves, or someone they know inside its pages.
The characters are so encompassing, so relatable that the identity of the list creator proved to be a small issue – the girls were more important to me – as will be the case for all readers.