Girls, Girls, Girls: The List by Sibohan Vivian

Confession: I have this perverse fascination with popular girls. It’s a total love-hate thing. I grew up in a small town and graduated with the same fifty kids I started kindergarten with, give or take a few, so we didn’t have the same kind of cliquishness you see on Mean Girls, but it still existed.  The concept of The List by Sibohan Vivian intrigued me because I’d seen it happen before; my school had that kind of a tradition.

An intense look at the rules of high school attraction — and the price that’s paid for them.

It happens every year. A list is posted, and one girl from each grade is chosen as the prettiest, and another is chosen as the ugliest. Nobody knows who makes the list. It almost doesn’t matter. The damage is done the minute it goes up.

This is the story of eight girls, freshman to senior, “pretty” and “ugly.” And it’s also the story of how we see ourselves, and how other people see us, and the tangled connection of the two.

The story delivers on it’s promise. To say that it’s smarter than Laguna Beach or The Hills is true but misleading. It has all the voyeuristic appeal of those reality TV style, without such terrible dialogue.

Because the book follows eight girls who mostly have forgettable names, I did have a hard time keeping track of them. Though a handy who’s who list is included in the front of the book, it was annoying to have to constantly refer to it (and it’s not like I was just being forgetful; I read this over the course of two days).

The very distant omniscient third person narrator was almost spooky. I didn’t like the judgements passed on the girls and thought it resulted in a lot of telling rather than showing. Flashbacks were, however, used very effectively and were easy to follow.

The novel suffers from some usual problems in contemporary YA fiction: conveniently absent parents, total middle class whiteness, and shallow conflict. Luckily, the writing was compelling enough to keep me reading despite the flaws.

I was surprised by the end, which did have a nice twist. Had the mystery been more of an issue in the beginning of the novel, it would have been more suspenseful.

Overall, this isn’t something that I’m particularly proud to have read, but I do feel I now know the type of reader who might enjoy it. The morning after I finished it I was able to put it in the hands of a girl who had a very specific request for just the type of third person following multiple characters kind of book. It’s nice to read something in contemporary that doesn’t entirely focus on a romance, so I’m happy to add it to my list of books about girls that don’t revolve entirely around boyfriend troubles.

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