Saturday, June 04, 2011

Beauty Queens (YA/Adult)

Beauty Queens. Libba Bray. 2011. Scholastic.  400 pages.

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


Book Lover said...

This actually sounds really funny and so is the cover! After your review I might even pick it up :) Thanks!


Mary Ann said...

I found the plot so ridiculous that I was reading for the ridiculous social commentary that I underlined and filled the margins with LOL and HA!s - I mean she did take on pretty much everyone and everything in one way or another - so while the adult critical part of me was like this is too (!) much mostly I just found myself guffawing at the stereotypes I recognized. It reminded me of Feed in some ways - the anti-consumerism critique. And also The Disreputable History of FLB (lockhart) That said I am having a hard time whole heartedly recommending it to my friends - its really hard to put a finger on. But I would sell the hell out if it to a certain group of kids!

Tammy said...

Go! Go! Go!
Read that book!
This is me cheering you on-with bright silver pom poms!

Lisa said...

This sounds interesting. What genre would you say it is exactly?

Becky said...

Lisa, I *suppose* it could fall into YA realistic fiction--but the "society" in which they live--ruled by the Corporation doesn't exactly match up with the real world. Though there are certainly parallels! We're not given an exact time frame for the story either--if this is the present or the future. There is action and adventure and it is all about survival. There are even elements that make it a mystery. And then there are the romances on the this one doesn't fall into just one category. It's all over the place.

Tammy, thanks for the cheer!

Mary Ann, I agree with most everything you said. Part of me was just loving the commentary. And I was really tempted to try to choose some of it to share in my review. But there were just so many gems! (Like the song titles from the boy band. Like some of the descriptions of the reality shows.) From that perspective, it was a good read! Very engaging and just fun! But it was extremely ridiculous and some readers may find that troublesome. So it's not a book that every single person would love and appreciate. For the right reader sure is fun!

Mandie, thanks for visiting!

SuziQoregon said...

I've requested the audio version of this one from the library based on a recommendation from someone who listened to it. I do love slightly twisted and sarcastic humor. I have a feeling that listening to this one while driving around is going to be the best way for me to experience it.

MotherReader said...

Interesting. I'm glad to get your take on it. I'm going to give it try, but knowing that there is differences in how the humor might be received (perceived?).

Marg said...

I really like the Gemma Doyle trilogy, and love the sound of her last two books, but I just haven't gotten to read them. This one sounds like a lot of fun.