Thursday, October 6, 2011

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

The Book Talk:

The Review:

Beauty Queens was actually a really polarizing book for me.  I absolutely adored some things about it, and there were other aspects that I really kind of hated.  Overall, I will definitely recommend it to people because the parts I loved were REALLY well done, but I think in order to accurately depict my thoughts on the book, I'm going to split this review into two parts.

Things I adored:

What I think Libba Bray does very well is characterization and stereotype subversion.  At the beginning of this book, I felt pretty meh about every character. I'm not exactly a pageant type of girl, and I was worried these characters were going to annoy me.  Needless to say, my own expectations were exactly what Libba Bray was trying to prove wrong.  Every character in this book has an interesting back story.  Not just interesting, but surprising and realistic and funny and smart.  I don't want to ruin these surprises for you as a reader, so I won't be specific -- I'll just say that all of these beauty queens could be real people who I might actually be friends with.  Libba Bray knows how to write for and about girls.

Another thing Libba Bray knows how to do is write about sexuality.  She puts her female characters in situations every teenage girl has found themselves in at one time or another.  The dude wants to have sex but there's no condom around.  The girl has a crush on her best friend but doesn't know if she likes girls.  The girl really wants to have sex but everyone around her has told her that it's wrong and immoral.  She not only puts her characters into these situations, but she has them deal with them in realistic and smart ways.  Modelling intelligent sexual decision-making is SO much more interesting and effective than not broaching the subject, so well done there Ms. Bray.

Things I abhored:

I have to say that the attempt at humor and political satire in this book DID NOT WORK.  It was just.  Too.  Over the top.  The consistent "commercial breaks" and scripted interviews with obvious Sarah Palin and George Bush spoofs were just forced and not subtle and ...unnecessary.  The heart of the story was about the characters, and when Libba Bray tried to force political commentary down my throat, I just found myself getting annoyed instead of laughing.  I'm not sure how teenage readers feel about this aspect of the book, but I'd love to hear their opinions.  In some ways, the obviousness of the humor felt degrading -- as if teens need it to be REALLY spelled out that "look here, this is some political humor!"  I think teens are smarter than that, and deserve some finessed subtlety to their humor.

I also had a similar problem with this book that I had with Going Bovine.  It is just too long.  If Ms. Bray had edited out some of the politics and made the book a more manageable size and a quicker pace, she may have had a girl power masterpiece on her hands.

So there we go -- I recommend this for older teens (esp. girls, and guys who want to know what girls are REALLY like) due to the sexuality and some drug use/drinking.  Anyone else read this and have thoughts?