Sunday, July 10, 2011

Review of Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Bray, Libba.  Beauty Queens.  Scholastic, 2011.

Sometimes it's hard to remember that Libba Bray wrote the Gemma Doyle Trilogy, seeing as how she followed that historical England-based fantasy with the quirky, surreal contemporary American road-trip adventure Going Bovine and now the even more quirky, surreal, and super-snarky Beauty Queens.  Where will Ms. Bray go from here?  One can't even imagine.

Crash a bunch of teen beauty pageant contestants on an island in the middle of nowhere.  Throw in a plot by an evil Corporation to sell arms to a particularly crazed dictator, reality television, corporatized pop culture, a Sarah Palin-esque beauty queen with a major Agenda, our culture's obsession with beauty and sex, the objectification of women, boy bands, and of course plenty of coconuts, palm fronds, man-eating snakes, and so much more - and you get one wild ride of a novel.

The pageant contestants - Miss California, Miss Texas, Miss New Mexico, and so on - start out as brain-washed caricatures (ho-hum, I thought, this is a duck shoot).  Quickly enough, though, the girls start having to think for themselves if they want to survive, and if that sounds predictable and eye-roll-inducing, I assure you that their saga is entirely unpredictable and ludicrously hilarious.

Each girl is a "token" - there's a Black girl and an Indian girl, a lesbian, an airhead, a defiant revolutionary, a deaf girl, a transgender girl, a repressed girl, and a scary, take-charge uber-beauty queen, to name a few.  Their interactions are sparky enough when it's just them together, but when a shipload of reality-tv-fake-pirates and some black-shirted Secret Militia types are thrown into the mix, all bets are off.

This all sounds over the top, and indeed it is.  Occasionally the relentless wise-cracks and one-liners and sheer crazed energy exhausted me, but mostly they cracked me up.  There's some seriously weird and twisted stuff in Libba Bray's mind, people, and lucky for us, she has no qualms about letting it out.  Here's a page I just opened to at random:
"I found a guy on the Internet to write me a prescription for horse diet pills."
 "Horse diet pills?" Nicole repeated.
"Yeah.  They worked great, but my mom made me stop when I grew an extra set of teeth inside my large intestine."
Petra stuck her fingers in her ears. "La-la-la-la-la.
 Just a small sample of the kooky awesomeness available on every page.

This is definitely not for everyone, and after I finished the last page, I turned hungrily to a book with more warmth and real characters interacting in real ways.  But entertaining and funny as hell?  Heck yeah!

Recommended for anyone ages 14 and up who relishes whip-smart, over-the-top satire with a major Girl Power theme.

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