This book begins with a plane crash. We do not want you to worry about this. According to the U.S. Department of Unnecessary Statistics, your chances of dying in a plane crash are one in half a million. Whereas your chances of losing your bathing suit bottoms to a strong tide are two to one. So, all in all, it's safer to fly than to go to the beach. As we said, this book begins with a plane crash. But there are survivors. You see? Already it's a happy tale. They are all beauty queen contestants. You do not need to know their names here. But you will get to know them. They are all such nice girls. Yes, they are nice, happy, shining, patriotic girls who happen to have interests in baton twirling, sign language, AIDS prevention in the animal population, the ancient preparation of popadam, feminine firearms, interpretive dance, and sequins. Such a happy story. And shiny, too.
Beauty Queens has action, adventure, drama, romance, and humor. I can't promise that you'll love Beauty Queens--or even like Beauty Queens. I'm not even sure how I feel about it. It kept me reading. It was over-the-top. It was sarcastic. It was funny. Perhaps some of the humor is a bit twisted, a bit out of the ordinary, a bit insane. A satire of sorts I believe examining our culture, our society, our obsession with reality TV, our obsession with beauty and fashion and celebrity status, our commercialism, our materialism. I do believe there were some hidden and not-so-hidden messages that tend towards the truth--minus some of the exaggeration and ridiculousness. So part of me thought Beauty Queens was clever. At least clever in premise. For I do believe that Beauty Queens is driven by the premise. It is a story where beauty queens battle to survive and are forced to come to terms with who they are as individuals without the attention, without the glamor, without the immediate need to be objectified and validated by others, by society. In other words, can these thirteen survivors get beyond the pretty?
If Beauty Queens has a weakness, it is that the book lacks in believability and characterization. While half the girls are more realized than the others--some we never even learn their names, we just know their state--few really reach their full potential. Perhaps because this novel is told through so many narrators. Or perhaps because we're told more than we're shown. Readers first see stereotypes, then ever so slowly, readers learn more about the characters. Readers come to see them grow through the novel. But some of this growth is a little too sudden. In one chapter they'll be doing this, saying that--and then the next chapter, it seems they've radically changed into better, stronger, smarter, more empowered women. We do follow their individual journeys; we do learn their secrets one by one. So I'm not saying the novel is lacking in all characterization. Perhaps just that it's a bit uneven?
Did I like it? Did I love it? I'm not sure I can say either. I found it a compelling read. I found it hard to put down. I had the need to know what happened next. I found myself smiling at some of the foot notes and some of the commercials and advertisements. I do think this one is so unique, so creative--at least at this moment*--that it will be hard to forget it. I can definitely see the appeal to this one. But did I personally love it--like LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it? Probably not. Still, it was a good way to spend the afternoon.
*There was probably a time when "good" vampires were unique.
© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews