February 8, 2012 by Heidi
Title: Beauty Queens[Amazon|GoodReads]
Author: Libba Bray [Website|Twitter|Facebook]
Standing: Stand alone novel.
Genre: Young Adult, Humor, Speculative Fiction
Published: May 24th, 2011 by Scholastic Press
Format: Audiobook; 14.5 hours. Read by Libba Bray
Source: Borrowed from my local library.
According to the acknowledgements, David Levithan at one point says to Libba Bray, “A plane full of beauty queens crashes on a desert island and….go!” And she did.
Here’s a rough outline of what to expect from the audiobook of Beauty Queens: The girls of Drop Dead Gorgeous get plane-wrecked on an island containing an evil volcano lair and meet sexy reality T.V. pirates. Kind of awesome, huh?
Let’s meet the (surviving) Miss Teen Dream contestants!
Adina is working as an undercover investigative journalist bent on taking the pageant down and exposing it for the misogynistic racket it is. She’s overly caustic, sarcastic, jaded, bitter, and full of contempt for Miss Teen Dream and the other girls.
Don’t be fooled by Mary Lou’s extreme Fargo accent (sorry Libba Bray, people from Nebraska do not talk like that. Neither do people from Fargo for that matter…my cousins from Wisconsin kinda do…), she’s not just the country girl next door. Mary Lou observes all the Midwest niceties, but deep down she’s a wild one longing for adventures as a pirate queen.
Taylor is Texan through and through, and she takes her Miss Teen Dream seriously. Deadly seriously. She insists on continuing pageant prep, non-offensive language, chipper can-do attitudes, and no shenanigans. There’s always been a Miss Texas in the Top 10, and Taylor plans to go all the way.
Nicole is a pre-pre med student in it to place and garner some scholarship money. Let’s face it, Nicole is black, and the only African American woman to ever win Miss Team Dream went down in shame. It’s not likely to happen again.
Shanti is fighting Nicole for the minority vote, presenting her case as the well-adjusted child of Indian immigrants. She knows how to make papadon in the tradition of her grandmother, she has charming stories about her parents, her talent is traditional Indian dance. And she hates when you call her “Bollywood”.
Jennifer is a juvie-turned-beauty-queen project of her guidance counsellor, and Miss Teen Dream is supposed to set her on a better path. Jennifer is our mechanically inclined, comic-book loving lesbian, whose personal motto is: WWWWD? What Would Wonder Woman Do?
Sossi gets the handicapped vote for being hearing impaired (though she’s annoyed that people won’t just up and say ‘deaf’). She is amazeballs because she started an all-hearing impaired dance troupe named Helen Kellerbration. Puns may make terrible jokes, but they make fantastic group/team/roller derby names.
Petra is the tall, big-handed, hormonally challenged secretive girl from the Northeast. She knows every lyric to every Boys Will Be Boys song, has a heart of gold and patience to boot. As a nearly 6’ girl myself, I find the insinuations that Petra is “big” to be a bit insulting, but yes, finding size 11 heals that don’t look like ass is hard.
Tiara may not be able to spell Mississippi (or douche), but she represents with pride. She’s the sweet resident ditz, who’s not nearly as dumb as she comes off (some of the time), and depending on your opinion of kittens you will either want to put her in your pocket or see her drown.
Essentially, Brittani is Tiara’s twin, though she seems slightly more intelligent. Also, non-essentially, she’s more-or-less a filler character. So let’s address the other fillers while we’re at it:
They’re just here for the show people. They’re the group of friends whose experience on the island we don’t much acknowledge. Oh and Miss New Mexico has a tray stuck in her forehead.
Looking for a rep of another state? Too bad, they’re dead. Check the floating bodies in the water or the frying ones in the plane fire. Let’s get on with the story…
Up front, these beauty queens are pretty easy to pass off as a largely unlikable bunch. Adina, and Taylor in particular, as the two extremes of pageantry garner the least sympathies. However, as the story draws on, it’s easy to see that there is much more to these young women. Each of them has entered for her own reasons, presenting us with a myriad of bad stereotypes and heartwarming truisms. This book held an interesting dynamic for me, as I am not sure that the characters grew as much as I did while reading about them. The girls certainly did change and come into their own, but my initial opinions of each of them changed more than they actually did as I got to know them. At the end of the book, there wasn’t a one of them I wasn’t rooting for, and luckily Beauty Queens wraps up with an awesome 80s-style flash-forward montage where we get to see how the girls grow up.
This book especially shined in its audiobook form, read by the author herself evoking the spirit of Effie Trinket. Libba Bray was excellent at the accents (with the exception of the aforementioned Miss Nebraska, but a villain who talks like Dexter from Dexter’s Laboratory more than made up for this), and voices were done in a way that made the speaker instantly identifiable despite the amount of characters. The footnotes had the fun chime of an airplane announcement, and the commercial interruptions came with fitting music. I find the use of footnotes in general to be annoying, but the chime certainly helped, and I tend to overuse parenthesis, so who am I to talk? Besides, there was this:
Footnote 50: Really, being a librarian is a much more dangerous job than you realize.
That said, Beauty Queens was positively dripping in satire. I was torn between just enjoying the ride, and feeling I needed to think about what was being said with the thick and abundant placement of “The Corporation”. In the end, I’m left wondering if Bray was really trying to say something with this book, or if it was all in good fun and just a laugh. I truly believe I would have enjoyed this book more as a teen myself, when I was myself every bit as caustic and sarcastic as Adina (okay, so I still am, but I think I’m less jaded now).
In the end, I felt that Beauty Queens had all of the quirkiness of a Bryan Fuller show without the charm. It’s a whole new world of pretty, people.
Likelihood that I’ll be back for more: 100%. Libba Bray’s upcoming book, The Diviners was on my Top Ten list of books I’m looking forward to reading in 2011. I’m wondering which Libba Bray we’ll see here, the Going Bovine/Beauty Queens Libba Bray, or the Gemma Doyle Libba Bray. Personally, I am hoping that she is able to find a happy medium between the two, and given the setting of the 1920s and promised ridiculousness, I’m thinking it just might be possible.
Recommended for: People who like their satire laid on thick, or those who might enjoy a literary mocumentary. People who enjoyed Going Bovine.
Real life repercussions of reading this book: The repeated use of the phrase “Beauty is pain.” gave me some horrible flashbacks to my childhood babysitter who used to say this as she French braided my unruly curly hair so tight I cried.