Each year, the week before homecoming, eight girls at Mount Washington High School will have their lives changed forever. Because each year, the week before homecoming, a list is published and posted everywhere. Everywhere. And on this list? the prettiest and ugliest girl from each grade. This is the story of the prettiest, and the ugliest.
“…She wants to feel beautiful. Every girl inside my house does…”
“I don’t think that’s it, ” Matthew says. “You girls want everyone else to think you’re beautiful.” (270)
I’d have to agree with both characters, but it is Matthew’s point that is at the center of the plot of this book. It’s a great premise, really, although a sad one. Eight girls in one high school are told whether they are the “most” beautiful or the “most” ugly out of their class and must live with that label. If you think the pretty girls have it easy, you’re wrong. If you think the ugly girls should just ignore it, you’re naive.
The eight girls are mostly stereotypes for the groups commonly found within the confines of most any high school in America – stereotypes for most people, anywhere – with a few twists to take the edge off the cliche. There is the ugliest girl in the Senior class, for example, who is just not unpopular, but has proven herself to be a twit in the past. I didn’t really feel that bad for her. The ugliest freshman is a talented swimmer and not really ugly at all – just built a bit differently. And she’s competitive. I was cheering for her. The prettiest junior girl; so, so sad. The prettiest freshman, I don’t even care about her. What was her role in the story again? Following all this?
That’s the problem with the story. Great premise. Lots of promise, but it just tries to do too much. Too many girls to track within the confines of six days and from the perspective of each of the eight girls. That’s eight, third-person limited point-of-views I had to shift between and follow and learn about and care about within the space of 332 pages. Ambitious!
True, I read the book through and wasn’t ever tempted to put the book aside. I wanted to finish the book. I wanted to find out who put the list up. I wanted to find out what happens to each character. But I felt like I was skimming through their lives. And at the end of the six days and after the homecoming dance is underway, there were too many loose ends. These girls’ lives are changed forever. Hopefully they have all wizened up a bit after only a week. Obviously, the prettiest Senior girl, Margo has. She realizes,
“the greater good is at stake. The chance to end the list once and for all. And, suddenly, that’s what matters to Margo. Not homecoming, not redeeming herself to her classmate, but making sure no one has to go through this ever again.” (295)
But is this enough? Will ending the list away really stop the who’s who prettiest and ugliest competition? Or does the paper list merely reflect the thoughts of the population at large? How can we change this?
It’s a good, quick, three-star read for older readers. Note the content warnings below.
What You Need to Know
- Role Models/Authority Figures – Full gamut of parental types: controlling homeschool mother, concerned two parent house, self centered single mother. Principle tries to put an end to the list. Other teachers ignore it.
- Violence – The list is a bully. People’s reaction to it is bullying.
- Sexual Content – One of the “ugly” girls uses sex as a tool: “She knows she is not a boy. But her boyfriend needs to be reminded.” (182) On Friday, “she still wasn’t sure how she felt about what they’d done on Wednesday, but here she was, ready to do that and more.” (232) The reader knows that this girl is wrong to use sex like this. That said, another “ugly” girl recounts her s*xual encounter with her boyfriend [no details], especially the awkwardness she now feels (suggestion that she wasn’t emotionally ready?). Football players mention that one boy has “jerked off to [prettiest freshman] last night!” (235)
- Consumerism – None.
- Drinking/Smoking/Drugs – Drinking at homecoming party (while parents “supervise” in the bedroom upstairs, a few girls “only smoke when they drink”. At the party, kids hold their alcohol, except for one girl and its frowned upon. She is not allowed to drive home. Angry ugly girl smokes.
- Religion – None. Complete absence of any religion.
- Other –