Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
rating: 4/8 tentacles
A plane carrying contestants in the Miss Teen Dream Beauty Pageant crash lands on an island where the girls realize that everything society has conditioned them to value (meeting societal beauty standards, owning the right things, winning titles, etc) no longer matter. All that matters on the island is survival.
Here is my review in the form of bullet points:
-At times, a little cartoonish. I often felt like I was reading a comic, which for me means that the choppiness made my brain start to hurt after a while and begged me for a nice, deep flowing river of prose it could sink into. At other times, the writing was lovely. I read lines I liked out to whoever was sitting nearby as I came across them:
Night crouched around them, a hungry patient animal. (Page 26)
-Beauty Queens obviously has a message, which I interpret as: ignore societal standards of beauty, don’t get taken in by the consumerist agenda, and be true to your Self. I think Bray fell somewhere in between telling and showing in her communication of this message. Maybe the line between these two things is a fence and she is climbing over, balance on the edge, tipping precariously into the yard of Mr. Telling: the annoying neighbor. I say this because the argument lurking very close to the surface of the story feels one-sided. I don’t disagree with it, but I would have appreciated shades of gray.
-I like MaryLou’s story the best. It is well told, although the point Bray is trying to make with it seems a bit backwards. Perhaps dated. She implies that girls are pressured to be pure and chaste and that it’s okay to succumb to your wild side, to give in to passion. This message might be better addressed to girls in poodle skirts. Nowadays, the pressure is in the opposite direction. Girls try to look mature and sexy. They put on short skirts and lip gloss and go dancing in clubs. I think maybe they need to hear that it’s okay to wear sweatpants and a purity ring. Or… That both options are fine and and they should do whatever makes them comfortable, to ignore pressure in either direction. Hello, shades of gray.
-I. Did. Not. Like. Those. Pirate. Boys. Their description brought to mind bulky, long-haired Fabio’s with British accents and fake tans. Just gross. Not attractive. At all. Which made the fact that I was TOLD they WERE attractive more annoying. Maybe I was told the beauty queen girls thought they were attractive. But Eew. Their rippling muscles and perfect hair seemed out of place in a story promoting feminism and inner beauty. The girl’s interaction with them seemed to imply that if you are accept yourself, all the beefed up hunks will want you. It provided a superficial prize for a very un-superficial endeavor. Why couldn’t the girl’s reward for learning to transcend the expectations of society and to find confidence in their flaws be happiness and self respect? Why did it have to be man meat? Ugh. Must leave disgusting pirate bros and move to next bullet point.
-I liked Taylor after… things happened.
-Although I’ve heard some complaints about the commercial parodies, I really enjoyed them. Their pointed satire amused me. The footnotes, however, got tedious after a while, except for the boy band spoofs. I got a kick out of those. Hot Vampire Boyz? Let Me Shave Your Legs Tonight, Girl? I think that might be Justin Bieber’s new single, har har har. I never really got into the whole boy band thing but I did like a smattering of N*SYNC songs, so I appreciated the throw back.
-The plot was too rushed and disjointed to completely absorb me. I feel mean making complaints about Beauty Queens because I really like Libba Bray and I love The Gemma Doyle Trilogy, but I really think this book could have been better if some of the tongue-in-cheek was balanced out with more depth, or more gravity, or more realism. This book needed a stronger anchor. Also, I just prefer the type of writing Bray does in Gemma’s books and I keep waiting for more of that. I believe she is currently working on another occult trilogy called The Diviners, for which I am very excited. Maybe that will satisfy my need for more Gemma.
P.S. Doctor Who reference = automatic win: “How she wished she had a sonic screwdriver…”