Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Beauty Queens

Beauty Queens
Libba Bray
Scholastic 2011  396 pgs
Grades 9-Up

A terrible plane crash lands a group of pageant contestants for the "Miss Teen Dream" beauty contest on their own on a deserted island.  At first dazed and confused, they eventually ban together and work cooperatively on surviving.  Gradually we get to know the girls and, as the book progresses, their masks begin to slip and we see their true selves.  Friendships form and the competitive spirit of the beauty pageant fades as survival becomes a more important goal.  Unbeknownst to the girls, they are not alone on the island.  "The Corporation" has a secret lair where they are working on an arms deal with a crazy Elvis-impersonating dictator.  Just when the girls are hitting their stride, a ship of cute, British, reality TV pirates lands on the island to stir things up. After several love connections are made, the fake pirates abandon the girls, leaving it up to them to thwart the evil pans of the cooperation and escape from the island.  Written with tongue-in-cheek humor and interspersed with commercials, pageant bios of the girls, and entertaining footnotes, Beauty Queens is a satire taking on beauty pageants, big business, the media, reality television and social inequality.  It is a celebration of womanhood and what really makes us beautiful.

Beauty Queens is a "concept book";  a bunch of beauty queens stranded on an island where they discover explosive hair removal and overthrow an evil dictator.  With this concept the book seems irresistible.  In reality I found it to be a bit "over the top".  Maybe I was expecting more hard hitting adventure and less satire.  Much of the book seemed to be thinly veiled messages warning of the corruption of today's society.  That said, Beauty Queen is more teen-friendly than Bray's 2010 Prince winning Going Bovine and, honestly a lot of fun.  It reads quickly and the plot never lags.  The superficial beauty queens are a mix of race, gender, and sexuality, which was nice to see.  The girls all experience character growth throughout the book, are multidimensional, and become likable and real (even the really horrible one from Texas).  The beauty queens are resourceful, brave and celebrate "girl power".  A wide range of teens will be attracted to the concept and cover and, once diving in, will go along for the ride.  Seemingly shallow, if stranded on a deserted island, these are the peeps you want to be stuck with.

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