Celebrating Siobhan Vivian and THE LIST

Monday, March 19, 2012

I first met Siobhan Vivian in a town called Lititz in the dark of a hotel restaurant.  It was after hours; the crowd was gone.  She was there with her best friends, her writing friends, each a lit star in her own right.  They were a raucous foursome, those girls at the other table, and I was feeling quiet, and besides, I was there with my husband, a man now nearly famous for avoiding what is known in my circles as lit talk.

Still, Siobhan insisted that we join them at her table.  She talked, they talked, I listened.  By the end of the night and a bottle of wine, I was talking, too.  More than talking, I was laughing.

In the years since, Siobhan and I have found each other in Florida, say, or in the mire of Facebook.  I have watched her career take off, her books earn praise; I have cheered her on.  Last week, when I realized that Siobhan was in my city for the Public Library Association meeting, I set off to find her once more.  We missed each other by minutes, no more.  We talked by phone instead.

We want the people we care about to write good books so that we can say—with all our hearts— I love it.  I am saying here, with all my heart, that I love Siobhan Vivian's new book, THE LIST, which is due out in early April, near my birthday (a good omen), and which tackles big issues—self worth, discrimination, vulnerability, beauty and all that beauty isn't.

There is so much that beauty isn't.

The premise is delivered in the very first lines:
For as long as anyone can remember, the students of Mount Washington High have arrived at school on the last Monday in September to find a list naming the prettiest and the ugliest girl in each grade.

This year will be no different.
Eight girls, then—four named pretty, four named ugly—and with thoughtful, third-person omniscience their stories get told.  It's a risky proposition, a novel that could only work if Siobhan went beyond stereotype and delivered fresh tales, if she made us think newly, if she hinged the whole thing around a searing who-dunnit, and if she wrote the heck out of every sentence. 

All this she does.  Siobhan is smart.  She pays attention.  To how teens think and talk, to the details that will matter to those who pick up THE LIST looking for some semblance of herself, or of them.  Siobhan's books resonate with teens because she has never forgotten what it feels like to be one, and because, on her tours with other books, she has stopped to ask the teens she meets what is going on right now, what is real right now, what is shaping young lives.  She has asked, and she has listened, and with compassion she has reached back out, writing a novel that is equal parts story and salve.  She's still inviting people to her table, that Siobhan Vivian.  I'm glad to sit there with her. 


Melissa Sarno said...

Oooh. And I will put this on my 'list' of books to be read. Oh, I made a funny. And that town is not really called lititz is it? I'm so immature...

Serena said...

I think its essential for writers in the YA genre to talk to teens and to find out what is going on now...wonderful that you all connected...

Beth, I hear you about husbands avoiding Lit talk...mine does the same...but book club once a month gives me that much needed stress break from motherhood and full time work, plus blogging reviews

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