I love YA fiction. Adore it. I am constantly on the lookout for really good YA books. My tastes vary: I really appreciate and cherish the wonderful, complex literary YA fiction out there (example: The Book Thief [which, if you haven’t read already, you should drop everything to go out and buy]). I also love more typical YA fiction–chick lit, the fluffy stuff, the kind I’m embarrassed to read in public.
This book is definitely on the chick lit side of that spectrum, but it was surprisingly deep. I was not expecting it to be as good as it was–based on the plot description and the cover, I was anticipating a poorly-written and fairly standard/cheesy book (note: that would still be completely enjoyable for me, but I like having my expectations exceeded).
The plot comes down to a list, one that comes out every year, that names the four ugliest and the four prettiest girls in school, one each in every grade. The book follows each of these eight girls in the aftermath of the list being published. There’s Abby, a freshman trying to escape her nerdy older sister’s shadow; Danielle, a jock with an older boyfriend whose friends don’t like her; Lauren, a new girl who’s been homeschooled her whole life; Candace, a girl with a pretty face but a nasty personality; Bridget, an anorexic girl; Sarah, a pseudo-punk rebel; Margo, a beautiful senior and front-runner for homecoming queen; and Jennifer, who’s been on the list for all four years of high school. Each of these girls deals with her placement on the list differently; it soon becomes clear, though, that it’s a negative thing for each of them.
I liked how distinct each girl was–each is fairly complex, and transcends the stereotypes that other authors might resort to. That being said, all of these girls are very unlikeable (maybe with the exception of Danielle and Lauren). They’re selfish and self-centered and destructive to those around them. That was kind of realistic, though, because really, that’s how teen girls are. I think that any teen girl reading this will find someone to identify with, which is good. The book also promotes the idea of different kinds of beauty, and internal vs. external beauty, which is important, but doesn’t hit us over the head with it. Vivian also captures the dramas and pain of high school (insecurity, friendship, relationships with boys) so well–it felt really realistic and having such different characters helped create a really representative and fleshed out portrait of adolescence.
I think that it was ambitious to take on eight different main characters, and to show us each of their points of view, but the result is that it feels a bit rushed and we don’t get much character resolution at all. I guess we are meant come to our own conclusions, but I wish the endings had been a bit more firm.
Despite my complaints, I seriously couldn’t put this down. I read it in a few hours because I was just hooked on the story–I couldn’t wait to find out what happened. Vivian’s writing is addictive–slightly fluffy, not especially literary, but compulsively readable.
Overall, it’s a really enjoyable way to spend a few hours. It doesn’t leave much of a lasting impression, but if you like good chick lit/YA fiction, check this out!