Sunday, July 17, 2011

REVIEW: Beauty Queens by @libbabray (Somehow, even more awesome than Going Bovine! It seemed impossible, right?)

Hi all!

Sorry for the lack of posting over the last few weeks.  I am teaching my first graduate class on multicultural children's literature and all the readings, the new class prep work and the super-awesome-AMAZING level of discourse among the students is keeping on my toes and striving to learn more and more so I don't drop the ball can keep challenging my students.

On top of that, I've also started training to do some part-time online tutoring.
(They actually had me teach a lesson on math!  EEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeeEEEEEEE!)
So, I'm still working to adjust to the changes in my schedule.

ON TOP OF THAT on top of stuff, last week I also received a job offer for a year-long position that would require me to move to Louisiana within...oh, about three weeks time and begin teaching two courses (one of which the likes of which I haven't taught before).  So, yeah.  Crazy times for me.

But enough excuses, on to the review...

Bray, L.  (2011).  Beauty Queens.  New York:  Scholastic Press.

390 pages.

(An ARC was sent to my boss...AND I STOLE IT!)

   Hunger Games
   Lord of the Flies
   Some Feminist commentary
   The worst/best of reality TV
   Libba Bray
+ Fun                                         
Beauty Queens

Appetizer:  There has been a plane crash on a remote island.  The plane had been filled with 50 Miss Teen Dream Pageant contestants, their handlers, costumes and a few camera crews.  But after the crash, only a handful of the beauty queens survive.  They must determine whether they should continue to prepare for the big pageant as they await rescue or focus on survival.

As the days pass, the girls realize that there is something odd about the island and that they may have to work together and save themselves.

So, based on my love for the Printz Award winning Going Bovine and any interview that I've seen of Libba Bray, I fully expected that Beauty Queens would amuse me.

It did not disappoint.  (And actually, I think I like it even more than Going Bovine since it explores so many wonderful questions surrounding femininity and feminism. )  And by 'many,' I mean TONS OF ISSUES!  There is explorations of racial and gender stereotypes, transgendered and disability experiences, female desire for sex, many version of what femininity is.  There is also a lot of social and cultural commentary and criticisms about boy bands, beauty products, T-shirt designs, and ON AND ON.  I would love to teach this book in a feminist YA lit course!  (*Hint*  Somebody--hire me to teach a feminist YA lit course.)

In terms of classroom uses though, I would probably only do read alouds of select portions that could work as a stand-alone or short story.  (I actually used one chapter with my current students to discuss princess culture.)

Plus, both Miss Ohio and Miss Michigan survive the initial crash.  Since those are the two states I've lived in for most of my life, I was happy to follow my representatives, excited that the midwest was ON THE ISLAND!  (Of course, post-Louisiana job offer, I can't help but notice that a Miss Louisiana is missing in action.)

I did initially have some trouble with the omniscient narrator.  I wanted to stay with Adena, the first character the reader meets.  I also had trouble keeping track of who was who.  (It is worth noting that keeping track of or remembering names is a reoccurring problem in my life.  But it is also admittedly made more difficult when all thirteen-ish of a book's main characters are interchangeably referred to as Miss STATE-Name and So-and-so-first-name.)

But the more I read, the more I enjoyed the story, liking how the quirky aspects all came together.  I loved the critiques provided in the footnotes.  I also loved the way the author dove below the surface of each of the girl's characterization to break down stereotypes.  There are certain beauty queens on the island that it would have been easy for me to hate if they were presented as mere stereotypes (I'm looking  in direction of Miss Texas), but I wound up engaging with them all.  (On that note, I especially liked that the story didn't turn into a girls vs. girls massacre, which had seemed like a possibility in the early chapters.)

YAY, beauty queens!

Dinner Conversation:

"This book begins with a plane crash.  We do not want you to worry about this.  According to the U.S. Department of Unnecessary Statistics, your chances of dying in a plane crash are one in half a million.  Whereas your chances of losing your bathing suit bottoms to a strong tide are two to one.  So, all in all, it's safer to fly than to go to the beach.  As we said, this book begins with a plane crash.  But there are survivors.  You see?  Already it's a happy tale.  They are all beauty queen contestants" (p. 1).

"Okay, Miss Teen Dreamers, I know we're all real flustered and everything.  But we're alive.  And I think before anything else we need to pray to the one we love."
A girl raised her hand.  "J.T. Wooodland?"
"I'm talkin' about my personal copilot, Jesus Christ."
"Someone should tell her personal copilot that His landings suck," Miss Michigan muttered.  She was a lithe redhead with the panther-like carriage of a professional athlete.
"Dear Jesus," Taylor started.  The girls bowed their heads, except for Adina.
"Don't you want to pray?" Mary Lou whispered.
"I'm Jewish.  Not big on Jesus."
"Oh.  I didn't know they had any Jewish people in New Hampshire.  You should make that one of your Fun Facts about Me!"
Adina opened her mouth but couldn't think of anything to say."  (p. 7).

"Reality check:  We're stuck on a freaking island with only a few bags of pretzels to each and God only knows what kinds of dangerous animals or mega-zombie-insects out there, and you want us to keep working on our pageant skills?"
Taylor glossed her lips again and smacked them together.  "Correct."
"Don't be so negative," Miss Ohio said.  "I'll bet the coast guard is on its way to rescue us right now."
Adina shook her head.  "What we need is a team leader."
"I accept," Taylor said.
"Um, not to be rude or anything, but usually you put it to a vote.  It's a democracy, right?" Adina laughed uncomfortably" (p. 20).

"'I think you're missing the salient point here,' Shanti said.  "Miss Teen Dream is a girls' pageant.  You are not a girl.  Ergo, you are disqualified."
"Who says I'm not a girl?"
"You have a wang-dang-doodle!" Tiara squeaked.
"Is that all that makes a guy a guy?  What makes a girl a girl?"
And the girls found they could not answer.  For they'd never been asked that question in the pageant prep" (p. 99).

"The baton passed from girl to girl as ideas were discussed:  Huts.  Fishing lines.  Rain-catching tarp.  Zip lines.  Tanning booth.  By the time the baton came to Taylor again, the girls had a renewed sense of hope.  After all, they were the best of the best.  They had lived through the pageant circuit, which was no place for wimps.
"When they come to rescue us, they will find us with clean, jungle-forward, fashionable huts and a self-sustaining ecosystem.  We will be the Miss Teen Dreamers they write about in history books," Taylor said.
"Nobody writes about Miss Teen Dreamers in history books," Adina scoffed.
"They will now, Miss New Hampshire.  We will be the best ever.  This is my new goal.  And I am very goal-oriented" (p. 104).

"Mary Lou and Sosie gathered rocks and pebbles from the beach and spelled out the word HELP along the shore so that it might be seen from a passing plane.  At the end of the word, Sosie made an exclamation mark with a smiley face at the bottom.
"That way, they'll know we're friendly," she reasoned."  (p. 120).

Tasty Rating:  !!!!!

1 comment:

  1. Hi. Just wanted to say I stumbled across your blog after using google to look up discussion on the book Incarceron. Wanted you to know I love your site and all of your reviews of YA books. I'm a mom of a 14 yr old girl and 13 yr old boy and am always looking for books to recommend to them. Thanks for all of your hard work!



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