Beauty Queens

Beauty QueensBy Libba Bray

Publisher: Scholastic
Publication Date: May 24, 2011
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Satire
Source: Publisher

Teen beauty queens.

A “Lost”-like island.

Mysteries and dangers.

No access to email. And the spirit of fierce, feral competition that lives underground in girls, a savage brutality that can only be revealed by a journey into the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Oh, the horror, the horror! Only funnier. With evening gowns. And a body count.

Goodreads Summary

En route to a tropical paradise for the Team Dream pageant, the plane full of all fifty contestants crashes on a tropical island, but not the one they were headed for.  There aren’t any hotels or malls or even just food or electricity, just miles of sand, mud and jungle.  A small group of survivors gathers on the beach – twelve, including Miss New Mexico who unfortunately has half an airline serving tray sticking out of her forehead like a visor.  Taking over just like her pageant idol Ladybird Hope, Taylor Rene Krystal Hawkins, Miss Texas, sets up pageant practice schedules and organizes the girls into teams to take care of first aid and looking for any other survivors – those staying on the beach are team Sparkle Ponies and those going into the jungle are the Lost Girls.

Eventually two more girls are found and after an attempted coup attempt by Adina, Miss New Hampshire, Taylor gives in and in addition to pageant practice, decides to use the girls’ other skills and supplies to fashion shelter and find ways to get food and water (flat irons to grab fish, pumice stones to sharpen spears, etc.).  They’re surviving quite nicely now – except for the hideously hairy legs – just waiting to get rescued.

What the girls don’t know is that on the other side of the island, The Corporation (The Corporation: Because Your Life Can Always Be Better), the pageant sponsor, is planning a weapons deal with a military despot – weapons hidden in jars of ‘Stache Off  (Lady ‘Stache Off: Because there’s nothing wrong with you…that can’t be fixed).  They need to make sure the girls don’t get in the way of their deal – no rescue planes or boats – and they’ve got an insider to take care of it.

Ohmygod.  My first name should have been Snark if only my parents could have waited a year or two before naming me – I’m sure I’d have been showing signs of it by then.  Well, Snark as a first name would be pretty nasty, so a nickname might be better.  The point is, sarcasm, lip, quirk, snark – any sort of humor that makes you snort, roll your eyes, tilt your head, groan – that’s my favorite.  This book was so mine.

The beginning of the story was much more laugh out loud funny than the latter part, by which time the humor was darker and there were some social issues being pushed.  At first the girls all had to be referred to by their states because no one could keep their names straight (Adina, Miss New Hampshire, becomes the main narrator, but it shifts from girl to girl) but they all develop really strong personalities, especially as the story goes on and they lose their pageant personae.  Nearly all of them are hiding some really big secrets under the sequins and hairspray.

The evil Corporation arms plot is equally funny.  Obviously a play on North Korea’s Kim Jong Il, The Republic of ChaCha is run by MoMo B., an Elvis fanatic with a stuffed lemur who wears sunglasses.  Plan Peacock is to sell him explosives stored in the jars of ‘Stache Off – a lot of the humor on that side of the island falls very close to the slapstick, twelve year-olds’ poop joke line.  Still funny – just a little different.

Separating all of this are some very funny little things (footnotes!) and pages like, “A Word From Your Sponsor,” when one of the characters does something objectionable, each girl’s Miss Teen Dreams Fun Fact Page!, hilarious scripts from Corporation product ads and “Commercial Breaks.”  I never do quotes, but I have to here.  I apologize for the length.

*****
Voiceover
This Tuesday, on PATRIOT DAUGHTERS!
(A group of British soldiers bursts into the home of BETSY ROSS, surrounding her and her reading circle of comely young women.)
Voiceover
  Has time finally run out for Betsy and her revolutionary band of sisters?
British Commander
Miss Ross, we are to arrest you for treason.  You give these rebels a symbol through your sewing, I hear.  What say you to these charges?
(Betsy sheds her dressing gown.  Underneath, she wears stockings and a skimpy undershirt.  The other women follow suit.)
Betsy Ross
How could I make a flag sir, when I seem to have run out of thread?
Voiceover
She gave it all for her country – and then she gave just a little more.
Watch the show critics say, “makes American history totally hot….It takes some of the most important women of the Revolutionary War and turns them into hellcats who fight the British with everything they’ve got – and then some.”
Followed by the season premiere of CAPTAINS BODACIOUS IV: BADDER AND MORE BODACIOUSER
*****
There are some serious issues woven in, although they’re under enough humor that they aren’t in your face.  The most obvious is the message here that pageants only focus on the external and that the parents of these girls pushed them into this for their own selfish reasons.  Pageants = bad, apparently.  This was probably handled with the darkest humor of the book by the end – it was very creepy, but effective.  Considering the sort of slapstick snark to the rest of the story, Bray added in some LGBT issues and handled them with some sensitivity and some very silly humor rather than anything crass.  A transgender association was actually called Trans Am and there was a running gag about a boy band.
The wrap up with the girls getting off the island and Project Peacock was big and yes, bodacious as only a pageant could probably be.  It was really silly and included a gummy bear run and a guy blindfolded with a maxi pad (followed by a Commercial Break for Maxi-Pad Pets, of course).  There were pirates and….oh you just have to read it.

My Summary: Obviously, I really did like this, but I do admit it won’t be for everyone.  I love Monty Python but I also giggle at bad 80’s movies and I may have cried when Mystery Science Theater 3000 was cancelled.  I liked the balance between the serious story of the girls figuring out how to survive, getting to know each other and getting to know themselves and what they want mixed with all of the funny bits.  The insertion of the commercial breaks and other pages added exactly the right amount of levity and I think were a great way to pluck me out of the story, something I don’t normally like but they were fabulous here.
My Rating: A-

Barbara

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