Friday, June 10, 2011

Breakdown of a Heroine: Beauty Queens (& Review)

Because I cannot keep things simple, consistent or realistic I'm going to try to do a "Breakdown of Heroine" for an entire book. Because I cannot just pick one beauty queen! That would wrong, almost like giving into the system and crowning one girl my own Miss Teen Dream winner. This is a competition they can all win!

Who are the Beauty Queens
They are practically every teen girl. Some are "stereotypical" Beauty Queens--beautiful, obedient not bright. Some are smart, some try to keep their smarts under wraps (because people don't always like pretty geniuses), some have disabilities, some are disadvantaged, one isn't technically a girl, yet.

Yet none of them are normal. They're all extraordinary in some way. Not one of them is exactly teenage me. But they are such a diverse group that everybody should find a character to identify with. For me it was Adina. She's a little less conservative than me, but I can relate to her journalistic "let's get to the bottom of this" and practical attitude.

You could be a Taylor --Texas girl raised on Beauty Pageants, strong, weaponized, yet a little more fragile than she let's on. Mary-Lou (props for almost being called Mary Sue) raised in a conservative household but a little bit wild. Jennifer--tough girl who loves comic books, is in the pageant as part of a program for at-risk girls.b Shanti--that weird mix between Indian and American, neither yet both. I could continue but this is going to be a long blog entry.

You don't have to be any one of them. This is a group of girls that is hard to define. They're all in the pageant for different reasons, scholarships, validation, under protest, etc. But they're all Beauty Queens because of who they are. By the end of the book you'll see what I mean.

Strength of Character
Is hell yes enough of an answer for this category?

The Storyline
Like my favorite show ever (Lost! More about this to come), it starts with a plane crash. Only it's not a commercial flight with a diverse group of people traveling with lots of subplots in their suitcases. It's a plane toting tiara wearing beauty queens. The crew, the pilots, all the adults are dead: leaving the teenage girls to fend for themselves.

Rather than scream and cry (Shannon from Lost I'm looking at you) they almost immediately take action, searching for survivors and creating a medical station. Rather than waiting around for rescue, they form their own little self-contained society.
"Maybe we should try to rescue ourselves." Nicole Ade, Miss Colorado
Seriously I think I'm in love! This book is not the story of girls sitting around being catty and waiting for rescue. It's girls banding together and finding a way to survive. It goes against so many teenage girl stereotypes that I can't even keep count. These are the pretty girls, the beautiful girls, the popular girls but that doesn't make them mean or cruel. Beauty is not a mark of evil. Pretty girls can be nice, friendly and can kick ass.

There's a lot to this story. There's a romping adventures, an evil corporation, sexy rock star pirates, an evil dictator, illicit arms deal, a plot to kill the beauty queens and more.

Romantic Entanglements
When I heard there was romance in this book I was confused? Knowing Libba Bray I was sure there would be some girl/girl crushes. But I heard there was a lot of swoon. Doubting an entire plane full of lesbian/bisexual beauty queens (not that it wouldn't be interesting, but maybe slightly inaccurate) I realized boys had to show up at some point.

And they do show up. Some of the girls, even the strong smart girls, lose their head over the boys. Confession: I worked at an all girls summer camp. This is not an entirely inaccurate portrayal of what happens when girls haven't seen boys in a few weeks. Sometimes the romances moved a little fast for me and I wanted to pull back on the reigns and be like "I know your boy-hungry but you just met" but the story had a self-awareness that made this work. Not every romance ended happily. Girls made mistakes. But what mattered was both the characters and the readers realized these were mistakes. That's rare.

Beauty Queen gives us a cast of kickass heroines that are black, white, Indian, redheaded, blonde, brunette, smart, dumb, straight, gay, transgendered, etc. If you read this book and don't understand where Libba Bray stands on these issues...well I'm concerned. But Bray preaches in a way that is so....not preachy. I know what she's saying, but she's so funny and silly that it doesn't bother me that her viewpoints are so obvious. Her books are silliness silliness silliness, deep message, fart joke. And I love that about her.

The book isn't perfect. I think it's hard to tell a story with so many POVs but this one is done really well. Maybe the best I've read but sometimes I'd still got mixed up. As I said, sometimes it leapt into romance whereas I would've waited, but really I love this book. It's upfront about what it thinks, what it feels and who it is. We need more of that honesty in the world. Less people politely saying they want "World Peace" and more people telling us what they really stand for.

Oh so Quotable
It would be a crime if I didn't post some of the memorable quotes from this book. I've never underlined so much on my Kindle.
Well like Ladybird Hope says: There's two ways to look at things -- crowns and pimples.
Taylor, Miss Texas
Teen girls are made of moonbeams and princess sweat.

Talking about having make-overs at Girl Con
"Do we have to?" Adina said with a sigh. "How is that empowering?"
"Things don't have to be empowering all the time. It can just be fun. Way to cut a fart in the middle of the party, New Hampshire," Jennifer said.
This quote may sum up perfectly why I love Libba Bray so much. Not everything has to be serious and empowering, sometimes having fun and laughing is just as important. But it's best when you can do both.

Other things I loved
Any reference to my favorite show is going to make me happy.
Beauty Queens did not shy away from Lost or steal from Lost.
It even mentioned polar bears. That made this Lostie very happy.

This is a sit-upon. One of the characters mentioned making them in Girl Scouts.
My reaction is "WE TOTALLY DO THAT!!!"
I love it when Girl Scouts is referenced.
You earn double Thin Mint brownie points when it's not about cookies.


Unknown said...

Oh, I'm even more excited to read this now! You review is the first I've seen that mentions the Lost references. And OHMYGOD! A sit-upon!

veela-valoom said...

So glad that someone else spazzes at Sit-upon mentions.

It's a fun book. I'm actually thinking of sending it to a counselor at Girl Scout camp (where I was last week) just because it seems like a great book for living in the woods with all girls.