Thursday, June 2, 2011
Beauty Queens with Attitude!
When satire is done well, I mean really well, there is nothing like it. The subtle (or not so subtle) poking of fun at society is so skillful, you almost don't recognize it at first. I love to teach Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five to my senior literature classes because satire is such an interesting literary tool for inward self-realization. But Young Adult literature doesn't often touch satire; I guess because it is a sophisticated method of writing? But Libba Bray wasn't afraid to break down the boundaries for YA lit with Beauty Queens. She wrote a hilarious, scathing, and eerily familiar satire that will have you laughing and reflecting the whole time you plow through this "beauty"!
When 50 girls, one from each state, fly to the Miss Teen Dream contest, they didn't expect a plane crash on a deserted island. They especially didn't expect to have to learn to survive on their own. Only a handful of girls survive the crash, and all the adults are killed. The girls that do survive are a motley crew, full of a transgender former boy band singer, an anti-pageant feminist who plans to take Miss Teen Dream down from the outside, a die-hard Texan beauty queen, a budding young lesbian, and a girl with a severe hearing impairment, among others. The minorities are of course represented, as they should always be, with an Indian girl who touts her immigrant success story, but is really just a valley girl, and a black girl from Colorado who everyone notices doesn't "talk black". That's right, all your cliches and stereotypes are present and accounted for!
The Corporation runs the pageant, as well as most of the world. They create/control most TV, products, and even the secret (or not-so-secret) arms deals. The Corporation has become a huge monster that hides behind silly reality TV and cosmetics. Its connections with Ladybird Hope, former Miss Teen Dream and presidential hopeful, are disturbing at best. But the Corporation doesn't want the beauty queens found- if they are, the islands dirty little secrets will be revealed. In particular, their arms deal with MoMo B. ChaCha, dictator of the Republic of ChaCha (ROC) where they plan to sell him weaponized Lady 'Stache Off against the sanctions on his country. They hope the beauty queens will just die off, but what they aren't prepared for are some seriously butt-kickin' ladies who have developed some serious survival skills amongst their baton twirling and Sparkle Pony dances! These girls aren't going down without a fight! Now add into the mix some fake reality TV pirates (one of which is a cross-dresser and is very excited the girls have recovered some of their high-heels) and you've got yourself quite an island.
Sadly, I just don't think my description does this story justice- it was absolutely hilarious! I loved the snark filled satire, complete with descriptions of a Scottish spy character who prefers his "haggis boiled, not fried". Bray did a marvelous job of slipping into a world of complete buffoons and social commentary cleverly disguised as a simple "survival on a deserted island" story. Truthfully, you won't be able to put this beauty down, even if the bathing suit portion of the show is coming up!
With the presence of satire, I would say this would be a great book for that child or student who really gets subtle humor or is fairly sarcastic themselves. This story is going to seem silly and vapid if the reader isn't able to understand the undertones of the story. I can think of a handful of snarky (I love snark!) students who would absolutely love this story. The cover might turn off a couple of boys (or make them more interested), but this story would work well for either male or female readers- it is snarky fun for any gender! It really reminded me of "Lost" coupled with "Miss Congeniality" and a healthy dose of Lord of the Flies thrown in for good measure. I absolutely loved this story, and it certainly appealed to my own snarky side!