Give me magic, gadgets, monsters, zombies, everything that seems impossible, and throw in some tough chicks with swords. That's the stuff.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Survival, Sequins and Beauty Queens

I recently read (and loved by the way), Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. I've found with satire, you either love it or hate it, there's little middle ground. Bray's commentary on the pressures put on girls struck home for me. It made me think, and a week later, I'm still thinking about it.

I went to an all-girls high school, so I consider myself quite fluent in bitch.  I've heard a few parents say that they're considering private school so that their kids won't have to deal with the horrible "mean girls" and high pressures. After I pick myself up off the ground laughing, well, I laugh some more. As a parent of a young girl, I get wanting to protect your own kids from that. I just don't think you can. I am not ashamed to admit that the idea of parenting a teenager scares the crap out of me, but I'll deal, she'll deal, and we'll come out of it OK. I just need to keep my head out of denial-land. Books like this are good for that.

The contestants for the Miss Teen Dream pageant have crash landed on a seemingly deserted island. The survivors need to find food, build shelter, and practice their opening number because they will be rescued anytime, right? Add some freakishly weird snakes, explosive beauty products, corporate espionage and pirates and you have a very fun romp through our image (and reality show-obsessed) society. The stereotypes start out heavy, the humor is biting, and I was a tiny bit concerned that I wouldn't care enough about the characters to hope they made it off the island. But I did, and in fact the character I first thought I'd be rooting for the most, isn't the one that ended up being my favorite. There are also some great lines - who wouldn't want to be the Che Guevara of pageants? And WWWWD ("What Would Wonder Woman Do?") should be on a t-shirt.

If Lord of the Flies showed the breakdown of society without an authoritative adult presence, Beauty Queens shows that girls might need to get away from society to find out who they are. As I think more on it, I'd add that the act of taking responsibility for yourself shows you who you are and what you're made of. Turning 18 didn't make me a mature adult - moving out, getting a job, and taking care of myself, that'll make you grow up fast. When survival is on the line, these girls find out what they are capable of, and it's more than catwalks and bikinis, although they don't want to give up the makeup counter at the mall, either. It's more about balance.

Of course, when the pirates come ashore, some of the girls swoon with the testosterone overload, but here again there is a balance. Some of the guys are good, some are jerks, it's finding the one that accepts you and wants the best for you that counts. Something some find out the hard way.

There is some ass-kicking too. Let's just say "Don't Mess with Texas" ain't just a saying.

I would recommend this for teenagers and adults, especially if you have a daughter. If mine was a teen, I'd give it to her to read.

I received an advance reader copy from Amazon Vine. [link goes to Amazon review]

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