After finishing The Diviners (a.k.a. the best book ever) on the plane back to the wet coast, I was stuck with a dilemma: which of the three books in my back pack to read next? Because what I really wanted was to read the next book in the series, which obviously couldn’t happen since it isn’t written yet, I decided on the next best thing which was reading another book by Libba Bray. Don’t hurt yourself trying to find the logic, because it doesn’t exist. So, cheeks aglow from finishing a truly awesome book and maybe some tears from leaving my favorite city, I cracked open Beauty Queens.
This book begins with a plane crash.
(Ooooooh, a meta first sentence!)
When the survivors of the crash of Oceanic Flight…wait, no, that’s not right. When a plane full of beauty queens heading to the Miss Teen Dream pageant crashes on a desert island in the middle of who knows where, the survivors have to band together to, well, survive. Survive their total lack of food, survive monsoons, survive giant snakes that appear to be decomposing, and survive an appalling lack of cosmetic products. But when they notice flashing lights coming from the “volcano” and stockpiled weapons along with mountains of Lady ‘Stache Off, they begin to realize they may not be alone as they thought. Oh, and also, there are sexy pirates that crash on the island. YES.
I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting when, every time I saw this book on a shelf at the library or a book store, I thought to myself, “By golly I want to read that!” However, whatever I was expecting, it certainly wasn’t this over-the-top, campy satire that is Beauty Queens. In order to enjoy this book, an absolute suspension of disbelief must be exercised. Logic has no place here, and as long as you accept and embrace that this book is a pretty damn enjoyable ride. (Example: one of the characters has half of a seat-back tray stuck in her forehead for the entire book. There are some people who got bent out of shape over this because it just wasn’t realistic. To which I say: hahahahhahahahhaha.)
So, the good: this book is funny. Like, lololololzzzz funny. I am pretty sure I annoyed my traveling partner (also known as a “friend”) by cackling out loud on the plane. A lot. I should actually make that statement with the addendum that I have a really, really dark sense of humor. I think there are quite a few readers who might be offended by the off-color humor, but I obviously was not one of them.
Beyond the funny, the vitriolic tone towards consumerism and the way society uses it as a weapon to shape women into acceptable femininity through making them hate themselves right down to their earlobes was really surprising. Everything I’ve read by Libba Bray has a feminist tone, but when you get past the chuckles there was a lot of anger in this book, and I liked it. In a way this book read a bit like a feminist manifesto in fictional form for the younger set. After reading quite a few other reviews and seeing how a lot of adult women were like “ugh there is nothing new here,” I would like to say this: for the intended audience, this might be one of their first exposures to female empowerment, or to a fictional world in which teenage girls eloquently take ownership of their own sexuality. And even if it ISN’T your first encounter with feminist fiction, that doesn’t make what Libba Bray has to say any less valid or important, especially when taken in the context of THIS IS A FICTIONAL WORK MEANT FOR TEENS. Not a scholarly work presenting a fresh batch of feminist ideas for the one millionth wave of feminists. So…there.
I also loved the inclusion of both LGBTQ and racial issues, which is a continuing theme for Libba Bray; however, this is the first time a transgender character has been right front and center and awesome in one of her books (or at least, of the books I’ve read, which is everything except for Printz winner Going Bovine), and I really want to give her a fist bump for somehow managing to make Petra’s gender an issue without making it the focus, so that her queer gender identity isn’t the sum of who she is as a character.
The negatives: even though I think I did a really good job of suspending my disbelief, the pirates were a little over the top even for me; not because I am opposed to any group of shirtless men collectively called “Captains Bodacious,” but because the various romantic arcs that developed afterword steered the feel of the narrative a bit off course. Also, as much as I mostly loved the satire and overt criticism of consumerism and patriarchal values, I will concede that at times the delivery got a bit heavy-handed. The world building wasn’t terribly strong–most of my grasp of this world was through the “commercials” inserted throughout the book, as well as just through the characters’ discussions of their media-saturated, consumer-driven society. How exactly society got to that point was never made clear, however that was not the point of this particular book so I was able to overlook it. Bray did an excellent job of pointing at our present society’s evils without a fully fleshed out, more traditional dystopian universe, and really this isn’t so much a dystopia as a work of satire with a slight dystopian flavor, so that cardinal sin was forgivable.
Overall, this was a solid read. It doesn’t compare to the brilliance that is The Diviners, but I’d recommend it to someone looking for a total vacation from real life without checking their gray matter at the literary door.
For music, I chose Hole‘s “Miss World,” because duh.
Where I got it: The library