This riveting exploration of physical appearance and the status it confers opens a cultural conversation that’s needed to happen for a long time.
Every year during homecoming week, a list is posted anonymously at Mount Washington High naming the prettiest and ugliest girls in each class. Abby, who finds it easier to get credit for her looks than hard work, and Danielle, whose swimmer’s physique gets her labeled “ugly,” are this year’s freshman duo. The list confers instant status, transforming formerly home-schooled sophomore Lauren from geeky to hot while consigning her counterpart, pretty-but-mean Candace, to pariah. But what the label mainly confers is anxiety. Prettiest junior Bridget despairs that she’ll ever be thin enough to merit her title; Sarah takes refuge in anger, vowing to earn her ugly label big-time. Jennifer, four-time “ugliest” winner, tries to relish the notoriety. Margo’s title should make her the slam-dunk choice for homecoming queen, but will it? Whether clued in or clueless to the intricate social complexities, boyfriends reinforce the status quo, while moms carry scars of their own past physical insecurities.
The issue is seldom front and center in books for teens, but Vivian refuses to falsify or avoid the uncomfortable realities that looks alone confer status, and their power is greatest when obscured by the pretense that “looks don’t matter.” (Fiction. 12 & up)