My first book for the challenge was Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. I’ve read her Gemma Doyle Trilogy and quite enjoyed it’s mix of historical fiction and fantasy. So when I saw this one of the list, I thought I’d give it a try.
Beauty Queens is neither historical or fantasy, but a modern day parody of beauty pageants, pop culture, and what society thinks young women should be like. Pretty. Silent. Virtuous. It’s also a story of finding yourself and being yourself, no matter what others might say or think. The message is clear: Be yourself, whoever that may be. And that’s one message young girls today need to hear.
The book has an absurdly hilarious plot in which the 50 contestants of the Miss Teen Dream pageant who are on their way to the pageant location end up stranded on a deserted island when their plan mysteriously crashes. Fourteen of them survive the crash, and then must survive each other, inclement weather, starvation, an island full of dangers, and fake pirates. The book is full of references to in world pop culture references, accompanied by footnotes explaining them. These make fun of everything from James Bond (Loch Lommand, who will “take the haggis – fried not boiled) to Madonna (Magdelene) to boy bands (Boyz Will Be Boyz) and their members (J.T. Woodland anyone?). There’s even a Lost reference.
The book puts forth an American society that values pretty, virtuous, and compliant girls above anything. Slowly, as the girls begin to bond and reveal their true personalities on the island, they come to realize that they don’t want to be what society wants them to be. They want to be themselves. Whatever that is. Some of the girls have ulterior motives for entering the pageant: scholarship money, to make one of their parent’s happy, to make a statement, to prove themselves. But none of that seems to matter to them in the end. One girl is revealed to be a lesbian, another transgender, and another bisexual, and they all come to challenge the norm of what is expected of them and what it means to be a girl and a woman. After all, what really makes us women?
Bray included a lesbian character in her Gemma Doyle books, and she expertly creates more such memorable characters here. As for the pirates, they turn out to be the cast of a reality show and turn into the girls allies in getting off the island. They also provide the catalyst for some of them to either to figure out what they want out of a relationship, or if they want to go it alone.
I can see why it is on the Popular Paperback’s list. It’s funny, has great characters, an albeit absurd plot, but it features real modern girls and role models for today’s teens, and challenges the norms of what it means to be a girl and woman. I give it five lightsabers.