Monday, 30 May 2011

Review: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

From bestselling, Printz Award-winning author Libba Bray, the story of a plane of beauty pageant contestants that crashes on a desert island. 
Teen beauty queens. A "Lost"-like island. Mysteries and dangers. No access to email. And the spirit of fierce, feral competition that lives underground in girls, a savage brutality that can only be revealed by a journey into the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Oh, the horror, the horror! Only funnier. With evening gowns. And a body count.

This book is like marmite. And insane. But mostly the marmite.
Now I love marmite, and I love this book, but I can also see that there is going to be a strong divide between those who love it, and those who don’t.
Me personally I think it’s brilliant, it’s a fabulous satire, and tackles virtually every subject of contention and problems for young people.
Sexuality? Check. Controlling parents? Check. Sex? Check. Peer pressure? Check. Beauty? Check. I could go on, but you get the idea.

The premise is genius. Having studied Lord of the Flies at school, one of the big talking points was always, how would this situation differ if it were girls stranded instead of boys. You have your answer – they’d sort out a fishing system, an irrigation system, a weapons system and still have time to beautify without cannibalising each other. Genius.

I found the characters easy to identify with and completely realistic – despite the more than ridiculous situations. That in itself is quite impressive given that I’ve never been anything remotely resembling a beauty queen, yet I not only liked the girls, I could relate to them and their perfectly normal (mostly) problems and fears.

There are a broad enough range of characters that there’s someone for everyone to identify with, so even if you’re not fussed on one, the plot skips around and gets to know everyone without settling on one for too long. You get to meet a variety of different characters and watch them mature, and by the end I loved all of them, despite not being so fussed on any of them apart from Adina at the start.

It’s a brilliant commentary on the stereotypes we’re all forced to inhabit in some form or another, and watching how the girls develop, how they survive, and how instead of falling down and dying as is expected of them, they thrive, they expand, and turn feral in their search to survive and to find themselves.

The writing is brilliant, and hysterically funny. A note of caution, if you read this book on public transport people will look at you funny when you start laughing out loud. It’s a step away from Bray’s first trilogy of books, but it’s just as good, just as detailed and just as brilliantly conceived.
It reminded me a lot of Jasper Fforde’s books – he likes to use the same level of insane situations, footnotes and general indescribable insanity. So if you love his books read this, and if you loved this book I recommend trying Fforde.

It's not all light and fluffy though, it can get dark and twisted and there are plenty of deaths to go around. In fact, it makes it almost more horrifying when it gets darker - Taylor in particular comes as quite a shock.

However, the stumbling block for me was the abrupt flicks to adverts or forms filled out by the girls, or footnotes to explain all the product placement and people and bands. To start with this idea was genius, and I found the footnotes particularly hilarious. (On a side note, the footnotes are a nightmare to get to on the kindle!) However, the further you get into the story the more I found these jerks away from the plot to irritate me. At the start they were great for setting the scene and offering a satiric commentary on the society the girls are coming from. But as the plot developed I started to resent these jerks away, as I just wanted to carry on reading and find out more.

The biggest marmite element of the book is MoMo B. ChaCha. He’s crazy. The guy impersonates Elvis, has a stuffed animal as an advisor and adores Captains Bodacious (awesomely hot pirates) as his favourite TV show. I think he’s brilliant. He’s the crazy cherry on the top of the insanity cake.
However I can see how he might be a step too far for some people.

I was so excited about this book, and it completely fulfilled every expectation and beyond. It’s a brilliant satire, hysterically written and offers an interesting commentary on all the many aspects of growing up that girls (and boys) go through.

It had everything I could possibly want. Sequins, cat fights, hot pirate boys, crazy people, and girls standing up for themselves and growing into the people they were born to be.


I loved the ending. By the time the girls are rescued I almost didn’t want them to be – they’d thrived so well on their own that I didn’t want them to go back to the oppressive society and families they’d come from. It was great to see that they didn’t lose that new found sense of self through the rescue and the faux pageant. And the epilogue made me squee inside. It was perfect, it was cheesy, and it was happy. There aren’t all that many books that come with uncomplicated pure happiness as an ending. And you can call it cheesy and cliché all you like, but personally I loved it, and it was perfectly fitting for the book.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure if this book is for me. I've read a lot of good reviews, but it doesn't sound like something I'd usually read, and since I've never read Libba Bray before, maybe I should have a different starting point.