Libba Bray wants to make you laugh. Desperately. Her need to have you guffawing your way through ‘Beauty Queens’ is clear in every footnote, every ‘commercial break’, every 2D character who says something like ‘I thought Catapult was a spring break city in Mexico.’. But! She also wants to make you think! Gosh, have you ever actually thought about just how much it sucks to be a girl? You haven’t?! Fabulous. Here’s 390 pages of ‘feminist’ ‘rhetoric’. When you’re done, you’ll surely realise the errors of all your ways, but also the errors of everyone else’s – the media. Your parents. The government. Those hot pirate guys.
I really wanted to like ‘Beauty Queens’, with its interesting sounding concept: Miss Teen Dream is a beauty pageant run by the ubiquitous Corporation. A plane full of Miss Teen Dream beauty pageant contestants crashes on an island. They now need to work out how they’re going to survive and how they’re going to get out – all while remaining in pageant mode. The island itself is a Lost wannabe, with secrets and Others and weird animals galore. The surviving group of beauty queens divide themselves into two teams: the Sparkle Ponies and the Lost Girls. Miss Texas shows her steely side and takes on the role of team captain. Miss New Hampshire is snippy. Miss California is Indian. And Miss New Mexico has a tray lodged in her forehead. That all counts as character development here.
It’s unfortunate that an idea with good potential has had the life squeezed out of it by an author who is simply trying too hard. The footnotes, explanations of cultural references, are cute at first, but quickly become an intrusion – likewise, the ad breaks and ‘classified document’ style chapters. By the time the pirate guys crash on the island (just enough for one boy per girl!) you’re groaning, when one of said pirates films himself having sex with one of the girls you want to throw the book at the wall. These aren’t spoilers, by the way. You’ll see it all coming a mile away. Bray also writes in characters that suddenly disappear for a few chapters, only to reappear later as if they’ve actually been there all along – think of it as Glee in book form, where there are just a bazillion ideas, stereotypical characters and storylines mushed together and called satire.
Now, I’m not sure if my disappointment here is because I’m not the intended audience. It’s entirely possible that the young adults Bray is writing for will or do love this book to bits; but I’m not going to be foisting it on the teenage girls I know saying ‘here! This book is feminist! It will make you feel good to be a girl when everyone else wants to make you feel bad!’ because it’s quite likely that it will still make you feel bad.
Finally, Libba Bray herself seems insufferable. Check out her interview with…herself.