Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
Release Date: May 24, 2011
Genre: YA, adventure, satire, humor, girl-power in a good way
Summary: The contestants of the Miss Team Dream beauty pageant are on their way to tropical paradise when their plane goes down – stranding them on an island. The girls must work together to survive, discover themselves, and realize their true beauty and strength within. Oh yeah – and try not to get killed while bringing down the conspiring of the evil Corporation and taking out an evil dictator or two.
Libbra Bray’s new novel is a stroke of genius. It’s funny, clever, and more than a bit silly, but deep down it’s such an important story – for girls and for everyone. You don’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to love Girls Gone Rumspringa, or use Lady ‘Stache Off, but you do have to respect yourself and not be afraid to NOT say “I’m sorry.”
I LOVE this book. In fact, I kind of lovelovelovelovelove it. It’s been a while since a book has made me laugh out loud so frequently, and overall it was just so much fun to read.
I didn’t even know what Beauty Queens was about. I’ve been wanting to read a Libba Bray book for a while, considering I creepily follow her on Twitter anyway, but when I heard the title I made certain assumptions. Which didn’t really affect my interest in the book, but I assumed it was going to be a book about vapid/frivolous/catty girls getting some character development for some reason or another over the course of a beauty pageant.
LITTLE DID I KNOW, this book is kind of exactly that, except all of the girls are people (and it made me realize that, yes, girls who do beauty pageants are people!) One thing I love about this book is that it doesn’t stick up its nose to anything or anybody), but they’ve crash-landed on a desert island and there are chase scenes and explosions and pirates and lemurs and dance parties. This book is so ridiculously chock-full of action and shenanigans it is hard to describe.
And somehow at the same time, Libba manages to craft a beautiful story of all these girls finding themselves, and forgiving themselves, and generally learning that anyone can take action and kick ass if they want to. My favorite parts of the book are when the girls get caught up in a big conversation, especially when they plot Girl Con and decide not to say “sorry” anymore.
There were some moments in Beauty Queens that were just so beautiful I had to read them several times to let them sink in properly. I loved the berry-hallucination dreams, especially Shanti’s. The whole middle portion of the book where the girls stop merely surviving and begin living is doubtlessly the best part, although I am really okay with the fact that there are pirates and explosions for the majority of the rest of the book. (It is apparently possible for a book to make you catch your breath and realize something true about the world and yourself that you hadn’t realized before, and then also have pirates and explosions. I also enjoyed the sassy dialogue.)
The one thing I can’t seem to make my mind up about is THERE IS NO MAIN CHARACTER. The narrative is focalized through anybody and everybody–within a single scene you might hear everyone’s thoughts on what’s happening, which is very, very unusual for a novel. I’m leaning towards AWESOME right now because it’s so interesting, and I think it made the pacing for all of the many revelations super effective. But it’s also so crazy I feel like I need to read it again to wrap my head around it correctly.
There’s a lot more I could say about this book because it was so wonderful, but mostly I just want to say this:
GENERAL GOOD TIMES. That is all.
Oh Libba Bray. I seem to have a problem with Libba Bray books. Going Bovine didn’t do it for me, I may have completely given up on the Gemma Doyle trilogy, but I was really excited for this. A new novel. Because I really like Libba Bray the person so I really do want to like Libba Bray in books. This has definitely been my favorite – an absolute joy to read. (And it only took me a few days so I can get back to Game of Thrones!! I mean…I have a problem…please help.)
Anyway, getting into this book is interesting – you really just have to dive in and go with it. Because it takes you to some wacky places. I mean, this book is goofy as hell, but in a really good way. It starts with a plane crash. More than half of the state contestants are dead. The survivors worry about where their shoes are. Miss New Mexico has half of a plastic tray IN HER FOREHEAD. They tell her she could grow bangs. Taylor Rene Krystal Hawkins – Miss Texas – immediately takes charge and starts a prayer about Jesus and how happy they are that he gave them this great, new opportunity. It is bananas. The girls are idiotic and absolutely ridiculously stupid. It’s hard to imagine how they can possibly survive the next couple minutes, let alone however long they are going to be stranded. But somehow…they thrive.
As the story continues, we learn about each girl, where she comes from and what brought her to beauty pageants. And it turns out – even the dumb ones aren’t just dumb beauty queens – they are people, with feelings and wants and needs, and they do want to be more than just the pretty girl with no brains. One thing I really love in the Gemma Doyle trilogy is how the four girls bond so tightly and truly love each other despite the fact that they are so different and really have no reason to even *like* each other. The same thing is reflected in this book. Adina – Miss New Hampshire – who is actually totally liberal and only did the pageant to expose it in a magnificent journalism piece finds a best friend in Mary Lou – Miss Nebraska. Even Miss Texas who you spend the first half of the book wanting to punch in her stupid Jesus loving face – in the end the girls worried about her and loved her too. They all considered each other best friends by the end. Despite their differences and their fights and whatever pettiness existed between them in the past. I just really love that whole – you can just be yourself and no matter what those friends will love you anyway – thing. We need other people to survive and loyalty can be fierce and good and wonderful.
I don’t really have anything terribly negative to say. The wackiness was a bit jarring in the beginning of the book when I wasn’t expecting it, but you get used to it as you keep reading and then you love it. Although I was taken back out a little farther on – wasn’t really feeling the whole jungle vs. the Corporation thing – ie Mysterious Wind saves the girls! Giant snake eats douchebag, but leaves the girls alone! Little strange. And as per usual, I am a bit overly cynical and kind of want to say “Yes, I already know the world is exactly like this.” Despite the exaggeration – Libba describes our world to a T and it doesn’t really provide any new revelations for me, it just kind of makes me sad…
But I think the best thing to come away with from this book is the idea that being a woman does not mean you should have to say “sorry.” We don’t have to be sorry for having an idea or having an opinion or for just being female. We do live in this world dominated by men, but we should stop apologizing for it. We are allowed. Allowed to think, allowed to speak, allowed to BE.
Also General Good Times is the most amazing stuffed lemur/general ever.
Lastly, my favorite quote from the book: “These were the moments that kept you going, Jennifer thought. When you looked up to the sky and cried ‘Why?’ sometimes the sky shrugged. Yet other times it answered with the warm assurance of linked hands. “Sorry,” it whispered on the wind. ‘Sorry for all the pain and loneliness and disappointment. But there is this, too.'”
Holy mother of batman in a sequin-covered tutu, I loved this book so much. I want everyone to read it, girl, boy, and everyone in between. Or someone let Libba Bray become the Surgeon General of Awesome, so she can sneak some sense into the world while making you howl with laughter.
The only negative I can point out is that I wished the satire was a little more subtle, especially in the beginning. But as I continued to read, and the plot became more deliciously ludicrous, the obvious satire and jabs at everyone from Sarah Palin to “America’s Next Top Model” to men who assume you’re on “the rag” because you have an unpleasant thought to Twilight and all of the vampire spin-offs to Kim Jong-il to those damned Vagisil commercials telling us if we aren’t clean “down there” we look like the Grim motherfucking Reaper – my run-on sentence got the best of me. What was I talking about?? Oh yeah. The obvious satire works really well as the book progresses, it just sticks out in the beginning.
Libba Bray has lady balls. Actually… I don’t like that term (sorry Stephen Colbert). Because it assumes that in order to say brave and smart and awesome things, you have to have some sort of balls. Meaning, it’s mostly men who do these things. Conversely, girls do the safe thing. They put on heels and smile and wave to the cameras; they make “popadam as my mother and grandmother taught me.” Girls behave, except the wild ones who get pregnant too young. So, we are the Madonna or the Whore.
Except life is not about binaries, and Beauty Queens explodes these strict gender roles. It tackles the inherent sexism and racism in beauty pageants, while still celebrating the right to wear make-up and be “feminine..” It says, hey – girls masturbate. (Seriously…that blew my mind. I don’t think I’ve read a book besides Ulysses in which a girl masturbates. Especially not a YA.) It shows how girls are made to be competitive, but also shows us how we can stop. Ultimately, this book shows the real beauty of these girls is the many layers and flaws that they discover in each other.
I can’t even tell you how funny the writing is (hello stuffed Lemur named General Good Times), but Bray also plants these beautiful nuggets of truth amongst the satire.
“But in this moment, it seemed to Mary Lou that the curse was in allowing yourself to be shamed. To let the world shape your desire and love into a cudgel with which to drive you back into a cave of fear. And Mary Lou had had enough.” I cried a little bit when I read that, and I wanted to shout it from under every glass ceiling until they shattered. Seriously, this book should be required reading along with The Great Gatsby and The Jungle.
Beauty Queens is funny and fierce; it brings it without fear of repercussions, without any hint of a “sorry.”
As has been probably mentioned fifty seven times by now, Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens is Lord of the Flies meets Miss Congeniality. At first glance it is full of stereotypical pageant type girls who are anorexic/self obsessed/dumb/covered in glitter and stuck on a deserted island. However, as you get into the meat of the novel you realize that each fully fleshed out character is more than just lip gloss (i.e. the feminist, the girl with the second chance, the token black girl, the hard of hearing beauty) although they are still in fact stuck on a deserted island. Thankfully no one is putting pig heads on sharpened sticks, but you still have to hold a conch shell (or more accurately baton) if you want to speak.
I love how the evil Corporation (aren’t all corporations evil though?) and ex pageant queen Ladybird Hope (who I imagined to be an intelligent version of Sarah Palin) are portrayed. They are both viewed as demigods despite the fact that they couldn’t be more flawed. Obsessed with being the best and making money in the process, Bray peppers the novel with commercial breaks with satires on female related marketing, from beauty supplies (Lady ‘Stache Off’s) and movies that teach you it’s impossible to be happy without a man. The Corporation even seems to control boy bands, in this case the uber popular Boyz Will B Boyz (what is Avril Lavigne spelling things in this world?) with hits like “I Gave Up My Hobbies So I Could Spend More Time With You”.
Not so amusing is MoMo B. ChaCha who I envisioned as a mixture between Kim Jong Il, Caligula, and Ken Jeong (dressed like Elvis of course). Probably my only complaint about the novel. Although I did love his stuffed lemur General Good Times. If there is a movie, I request that Orlando Bloom play the lemur.
Overall, the entire novel is filled with hysterical jokes that had me laughing the whole way through. I was especially partial to Team Sparkle Ponies, references to Lord Byron, Christian pole dancing, and mentions of Charles Dickens name as too pornographic.
WHAT WE LIKED MOST:
-General Good Times
-Sparkle Ponies – and that they can make ANYTHING out of an evening gown
-Girls not apologizing
-Hilarious writing full of jokes and jabs at pop culture and our world in general
WHAT WE LIKED LEAST:
-Wacky satire is jarring at first
Seriously – you should read this book.
Join us next month when we review our June Bibliomantic Book Club Book: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.