Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Review: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Title: Beauty Queens
Author: Libba Bray
Genre: YA Adventure Satire
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Length: 396 pages (not sure how many hours!)
Original Publishing Date: May 24th, 2011
Series: Standalone
Where I got it: Audiobook from the Library
Links: Goodreads Amazon Author's Website

Synopsis from Goodreads: 
The fifty contestants in the Miss Teen Dream pageant thought this was going to be a fun trip to the beach, where they could parade in their state-appropriate costumes and compete in front of the cameras. But sadly, their airplane had another idea, crashing on a desert island and leaving the survivors stranded with little food, little water, and practically no eyeliner.

What's a beauty queen to do? Continue to practice for the talent portion of the program - or wrestle snakes to the ground? Get a perfect tan - or learn to run wild? And what should happen when the sexy pirates show up?

Welcome to the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Your tour guide? None other than Libba Bray, the hilarious, sensational, Printz Award-winning author of A Great and Terrible Beauty and Going Bovine. The result is a novel that will make you laugh, make you think, and make you never see beauty the same way again.

Main characters: 3.5/5

There's a lot of characters. To Bray's credit, she is able to juggle all of them pretty effectively, giving them their own personality and likes and dislikes. Unfortunately, the way she does this is through stereotypes. I liked the idea that they started as flat characters, or what you would judge them as from first glance, and turned into well-rounded and developed characters with secrets and unique interests. Still, some of the characters seemed over-the-top, ridiculous and unbelievable.

But I felt like Bray had an agenda (you may hear this more than once in this review). Especially in relation to their thoughts about the pageant. It's obvious that Bray holds some disdain for the pageant circuit, because half the characters were only in the pageant to bring it down, and the ones who weren't either realized they hated it or they were described as dumb as a doorknob. So great, no one actually enjoys pageants and the ones who do are dumb.

To go over some specific qualities: I like the twists with Adina & Duff and with Sosi & Jennifer. They were nothing like what I expected and I LOVED that. Mary Lou was a little boring to me, even though I know she was meant to be the opposite. Her secret was nothing particularly special and I didn't like how her subplot ended. Taylor was excellent. I loved her transformation. I hated Adina. Sorry, but her pessimism just didn't do it for me. And the way that Miss Montana, Miss Arkansas and Miss New Mexico were portrayed? Why did Bray even include them if she wasn't going to give them a personality?

Secondary characters: 2/5

My first negative complaint with the secondary characters is that our villains are thinly veiled representations of real people: leaders and politicians. This irked me because I didn't find anything new from them and even though this was intended to satirize these figures, I guess I just didn't feel it.

The inclusion of the pirates also stumped me. While they were raucous and elicited some thought from both the girls and the readers on what it meant to bring boys into their all-female island, I felt that it shifted the focus of the novel from a sort of "yay-Feminism!" to "let's-talk-about-romance". This may not be a bad thing, but all of these crazy, shifting focuses meant that I got confused about the main point of the novel and I felt like Bray was trying to do too much.

Writing style: 2/5

Let's chat about Beauty Queens. There's a lot to talk about. First, though, I want to mention the satire. I liked the idea of the satire of American culture and the underlying currents of anti-feminism that run through our society, however the satire in Beauty Queens was heavy-handed. I don't just mean that Bray was a little too obvious; it seemed like she went through with a bulldozer and ran you over with her attempts at satire.

Then we have the writing style itself. On the one hand, Bray writes with an irreverent, witty, over-the-top and campy style, with an almost slapstick form of comedy. If this was how the book went, it wouldn't be my cup of tea, but it would be consistent. Instead, in the middle of this outrageous, comical satire, Bray attempts to discuss serious issues. For me, this was very confusing. If you're going to bring awareness to societal problems through satire, do it through satire. If you're going to do it through legitimate conversations and discussions, do it that way. But don't get me in the mode of satire where I'm viewing the world through the ironic or hyperbolic lens and then flip it and give me real issues and solutions.

I did like the footnotes and fun commercial breaks and all of the different media included in the novel. Even when they were heavy-handed, it provided some breaks from the narrative and throws you deep into the world that Bray has created.

The pacing was just okay. There were some parts that dragged in speed and that I wished I could skip. 400 pages of this ridiculous satire was too much.

Plot: 1/5 
So, here's the thing. Beauty Queens was ridiculous. There is no doubt about that. It definitely wasn't my thing, as I prefer less of a slapstick comedy routine and more realism in my novels, even in something that isn't realistic at all. First, the plotline itself is over-the-top, but on top of this, even the more minute details ended up making me going, "whattt??". Like the Lady Stache Off subplot? Please... It just wasn't my cup or tea.

The other thing that I mentioned earlier but want to expand on: Bray just tried to do way too much with this novel. She's attempting to satirize American society, but it seems like she's trying to satirize EVERYTHING, and that's just way too much to do. Then she tries to pull off this campy James Bond thriller, and she tries to tie in this evil corporation? It all gets done, just not very effectively.

Ending: 4/5

I like the idea of seeing where the girls are in the future and I liked how it concluded the story and the growth of the characters. I also liked the "mixed media" aspect with the commercials and the Corporation, and how it played into the ending. Yay for no sequels and an ending that ties up all loose ends well.

Best scene: There were a couple ridiculous ones, like the beauty pageant scene, that were pretty memorable.

Reminded Me Of: Lord of the Flies meets Miss Congeniality

Positives: The reclamation of the beauty queen stereotypes, the main characters, the way that the characters break expectations and grow, the premise,  the fun mixed-media writing style (commericals, footnotes, etc)

Negatives: The satire, the pacing, the fact that Bray seemed to push an agenda, the attempt to do too much, the ridiculous, over-the-top, campy style, 

Cover:  Yesss... I love this cover. It's so eye-catching and very representative of the novel.

Verdict:  Beauty Queens is a novel like nothing I've ever witnessed before. I applaud Bray's innovation and outside-the-box thinking, however the concept was larger than could be executed. 

Rating:  5.0 / 10 (3 stars)

Your Thoughts: Have you read it? What did you think? If you haven't, will you be adding it to your TBR list? Let me know! Also: if you have read it, what did you think of the satire aspect? Did you like it? Did you think it was heavy-handed?

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