Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

genre: young adult

What happens if a plane full of beauty pageant contestants crashes onto a deserted island?  Or, to spice things up, what if that island isn't really deserted, it's actually the home base for a political plot to destroy another country?

If you would like to teach an (older) young adult about the word "satire," this book would be a great introduction.  The girls, every one of them, is over the top in some way - their obsession with beauty products and pageantry and perfection, their inability to see beyond their own tiny shadow - even the girls who are the antithesis of this are a caricature of their own hatred of the pageant life.  So you wonder, how can I care about any of this and slog myself through a book about beauty queens?

Mostly because it's actually quite funny.  If you can look past the foul language, there are some laugh-out-loud lines that come out of the mouths of these girls.  And of course, there are rogue body-building pirates and an insane, Elvis-worshipping dictator.  There are product placements footnotes throughout.  Bray has crafted a seriously witty piece of work here. Pretty quickly into it you figure out that as much as this is a "Lord of the Flies"-ish survival story, it seems to me that that's not the point at all - Bray's just chosen this as the backdrop for her real point.

I appreciate what she has chosen to satirize - the "beauty" culture, its trappings and commercialization, the way young girls can get caught up in so much that is NOT important. The background stories of various characters also point to the fact that a lot of this is backlash from the things that we as parents can push our girls into or what our kids will find solace in if we remove ourselves from actually being a parent.  I liked the feeling of "girl power" that reminded me of how limiting life can sometimes be if you aren't on your guard as a girl.

As much as sometimes the sexuality was more than I'd want my own daughter to read, it's clear that the other part of Bray's message is: all kinds of sexuality are okay - straight, lesbian, bi (or maybe not), transgender, whatever.  She's adamant that each girl should have the freedom to figure out what they are and uses snark and genuine love/lust to give each girl her own chance to decide what kind of relationship she wants to have, on her own terms. While that isn't my own personal cup of tea, I CAN see that for girls who are going through this process, they may find one or two characters that they can really relate to, or, if not, maybe a little bit of patience for those are are going through it.

The truth?  Despite what I liked about it, it would be hard for me to put this in the hands of my own daughter - the sexual content and language really make it a read for those 15-16 and up, I'd say.  I can imagine, though, if she was mature enough to handle those themes, we could have a very interesting discussion about the deeper satirical world Bray laid out for us.

note: if you're interested in the content of the books I read, please go to http://ratedreads.com


bermudaonion said...

I like what it sounds like Bray's trying to say in this book. I'll have to give it a try one day.

Melissa said...

I agree: I wouldn't give it to a 12 year old, but M was 15 when we read it, and she handled everything quite well. Plus, you were right in the discussions it engendered.

That said, my favorite bits are still the commercials and the footnotes.

Biblibio said...

Bray is often a little over the top, but I think Beauty Queens takes it a step further. Going Bovine was also often ridiculous and far-fetched, but it didn't go out of its way to bash its message over your head like Beauty Queens did. As satire, the book just doesn't work very well (the focus on female sexuality, for example, may be important, but it was overblown) - and as anything else, the satire is overwhelming. A somewhat problematic situation.

Click here to learn about - Gold Beach Rogue River Salmon Fishing Guide said...

As far as I can remember, every review of this book I've read said it was really funny! This book sounds awesome :)

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