Anyone who’s read or watched Carrie knows that high school kids can be mean. While not all instances of high school cruelty involve pig blood, a burning gymnasium and a young John Travolta, they can be just as bad in their own way. It would be great if high school was more like the HelloGiggles community (the nail art, at least, would be fab), but we all know school’s not always a welcoming or supportive place.
Siobhan Vivian’s The List imagines a high school hell so heinous it rivals Carrie. Every year, on the last Monday of September, students at Mount Washington High can expect The List. The List is 8 names long; 2 girls from each grade. 4 of them are the prettiest, and 4 of them are the ugliest. No one knows who writes the list, but every year it shows up. And every year, it changes 8 girls’ lives.
Siobhan Vivian writes the story from each girl’s perspective, so we get the viewpoint of every “pretty” and “ugly” girl. And guess what? Being on the list sucks for all of them. You might think being called the prettiest girl in your grade would be nothing but good times, but The List manages to test relationships, turn friends against each other and strain family dynamics for everyone involved.
If you’ve read other Young Adult Education columns, you know I love myself some YA romance. I mean, last week’s column was just a list of fictional teenage boys I find attractive. While The List does feature a couple of relationships and at least one cool guy, its heart-fluttery moments are few and far between. And yet I still love it—what gives?
I think what I like so much about The List is that it focuses on an aspect of high school life you don’t see too much of in contemporary YA lit. A lot of YA deals with either fun romances (like The Princess Diaries) or incredibly dark, harrowing tales (like Speak). While I absolutely adore those books, I like The List because it deals with something all high school girls have to face on a daily basis: the school’s perception of their appearance, and what that means to them. Most of us probably didn’t have to deal with a list that told us whether we were pretty or ugly, but I’m willing to bet you dealt or are dealing with being judged because of your appearance. Of course, this continues forever for us lucky ladies (see the cover of any tabloid for evidence), but it’s never worse than in high school.
So while The List doesn’t feature Peeta Mellark makin’ it rain (bread) or Marcus Flutie writing sexually suggestive poems on notebook paper, it does feature a situation we’re all much more likely to deal with in real life (because, as much as I might like to be styled by Lenny Kravitz himself, probably none of us are going to end up in a Hunger Games sitch anytime soon). That’s why The List is so great–while the premise might be a little out there, those feelings are 100% spot-on.
-If you liked The List, be sure to check out Burn For Burn, which Siobhan cowrote with Jenny Han. You can read my interview with Siobhan and Jenny here!
-My favorite part of The List is the ending. Don’t worry, I won’t give anything away, but I will tell you that the ending doesn’t tie up all the loose ends and our heroines don’t all ride off into the sunset. Which is awesome, because it’s not like high school superficiality ever goes away. Some girls realize how little it matters and some girls don’t, but it doesn’t ever really end.
–The List reminded me a bit of Mean Girls. Well, a more-realistic, LiLo-less Mean Girls, or maybe like a more-realistic, Winona-less Heathers. There’s no Regina George in The List, though; no reigning Queen Bitch we can love to hate. Instead, we just get 8 girls, all of whom seem real, all of whom have problems, all of whom have their lives changed by The List.
What about you? Have you read The List? Did you ever experience anything similar in high school? Let me know in the comments! As always, I love to hear your suggestions for books to feature in Young Adult Education. Leave a comment, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @KerryAnn.
Image via That Cover Girl