It’s no secret i am a voracious consumer of Young Adult fiction. I have yet to start what surely will be the brilliant The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, but this is only because i have been utterly enthralled and consumed by another YA novel for the past three days. When not running around Manhattan, i have been glued to my recently acquired copy of Libba Bray’s most recent masterful work: Beauty Queens.
I’ve been a fan of Bray’s writing ever since i checked out A Great and Terrible Beauty from the local library some five years ago; she is fresh, manipulates a story with ease, and has one of the most wry and clever senses of humor i’ve yet encountered. Having read a smidget of the review for this book on Spark, i knew it promised to be a book of equal calibar to her other works, if not completely different in its setting and style (A Great and Terrible Beauty takes place in Victorian England, as i recall).
Beauty Queens is unlike anything i’ve ever read; in its concept, it is nothing unique, and yet it somehow manages to achieve exception both through the quirky narration style and Bray’s masterfully interwoven social commentary. The book begins with an enormous, devastating plane crash: the contestants for the Miss Teen Dream Beauty Pageant have fallen on an unknown island somewhere south of Florida. Hell breaks loose, as the collection of the surviving teen girls try to survive the unruly and unimaginable jungle they have found themselves in. Peppered with hilarious footnotes written by ‘The Corporation,’ the apparent official sponsor of the book (by which Bray is making a pretty snarky commentary on product placement and the cult of the celebrity) and rich character development, the book stands incomparable to most other YA i’ve read.
Unmistakably, the premise reeks of Lord of the Flies; and while the fact that the characters are stranded on an island with no adults to supervise certainly lends credibility to the parallel, the commentary Bray is making on humanity is far different from that of William Golding’s (in my humble opinion). To begin with, the characters are women – and women who embody a spectrum of sexual orientations, gender identities, races, and religions. These women may at first appear to be nothing but vapid products of a consumerist beauty aesthetic impossible to achieve, but as the tale weaves on we learn that not all is as it seems with the pageant wannabees.
In this, Bray has created a beautiful (pun intended) portrait of the expectations forced on men and women in today’s media. Through hysterical allusions to contemporary pop culture icons like Larry King and Sarah Palin, Bray has created a not-so-alternate universe from our own. She handles such ideas with charm and humor, but simultaneously manages to give space to the gravity of what she is speaking about. Hair removal creams can become explosives, gender lines and expectations are blurred, and no sex ed program will ever be thought of as a scapegoat for “loose women” in her saga. Oh, and pirates. As if feminist theory told in a stranded-island form was not enticing enough!
I adored this work; i recommend it to anyone and everyone to read, be you a teenage girl seeking for some supremely well executed feminist theory or an intellectualist wishing for a more creative vessel by which to consider the implications of the reality TV-like quality governmental elections seem to have taken on.
current jam: ‘heard them stirring’ fleet foxes.
best thing in my life right now: books books books.