Saturday, August 04, 2012

Book Review: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Book: Beauty Queens
Author: Libba Bray
Published: 2011
Source: Local Library

When the plane holding all fifty contestants of the Miss Teen Dream beauty pageant goes down on a tropical island, the odds are most definitely stacked against the survivors. No water, no food, no shelter, and you just can't get a good facial anywhere.

But Miss Teen Dream contestants never say die (well, except for the ones who already did). After a few missteps, they're taking their survival into their own hands, creating shelter, catching food, and battling island wildlife, all while working on their tans and keeping their pageant skills sharp.

But there's more coming down the pike. The beauty queens are about to face off with reality-show pirates, the evil corporation, the megalomaniac dictator with an Elvis fetish, and the weapons system whose override is PowerPoint. You know. Just in case you thought this was going to make any sense at all.

I've been looking forward to this book on the strength of Bray's wild and powerful Printz award winner, Going Bovine, and I wasn't disappointed. It was the same mix of hilarious and heartfelt. She expertly juggles about six or seven viewpoint characters, all with their own individual character arcs. She often does this by pairing them up, playing two against each other to how their differences peel away the glossy pageant personae and find the messy, scaly, warty real girl underneath. To questions on ethnicity to sexuality to conformity to feminism--very often in the same character--the answer comes out the same: nobody fits a category, but they're all extraordinary just the way they're made, and their power comes when they own it.

If you're a plot person, don't read this. If you're into strict realism, don't read this. But if you love wicked satire with just enough silliness to keep you laughing, feminism with some teeth, stories about love and friendship and identity and courage . . .Well, this is the book for you.

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