Last year, my book club read The Diviners by Libba Bray. I really enjoyed the fun, 1920’s vibe and the contrasting darkness of the horror in the story. I made a mental note to look for other books by Bray, and finally got around to picking one up.
And Beauty Queens couldn’t be more different from The Diviners if it tried. This book made me laugh. A lot.
Beauty Queens is the satiric story of a plane filled with teen beauty pageant contestants that crashes on a weird deserted (or is it?) island. Sort of a Lord of the Flies meets Lost meets The Bachelorette. It is a completely ridiculous story filled with absolutely outlandish plots. And underneath all of the silly bits with pirates and sequins and batons, its a story about strong girls bucking society’s tropes. Girls who were once seen as only being valued for being pretty suddenly find that they are completely self sufficient and stronger than anyone ever imagined.
Survivors include a wanna-be journalist (only taking part in the pageant in order to uncover its truths), a former juvenile delinquent who happens to be gay, a deaf dancer who may or may not be bisexual, a former boy-band heartthrob undergoing gender reassignment, a black girl who dreams of being a doctor someday, a Valley Girl who’s parents immigrated from India for a better life, a southern girl who’s always been told that she’s so pretty that its OK for her to be dumb, a girl from New Mexico who spends the entire book with a tray table embedded in her forehead, and Miss Texas.
Miss Texas is the one who wants them to keep up with their pageant activities. Don’t bother building shelter and finding clean water — let’s work on our evening gown routines and the big dance number. But Miss Texas also has a few secrets. She’s the daughter of a general, and knows more about survival than even she realizes.
Of course there’s some other weird stuff going on around the island. A covert group has a secret base where they are plotting to sell arms to the USA’s number one enemy. Soldiers in black are running around, a very Sarah Palin-y politician seems to be in charge of the entire operation, giant snakes are eating people whole, and a ship filled with hot pirates from TV’s number one reality show crashes onto the beach. (Side note: the name Sinjin St. Sinjin made me laugh every single time I saw it.)
I really enjoyed that Bray wrote a totally ridiculous story that made me think about some really serious topics. I think this one will go into the pile of books that I’m saving for my 10 year old daughter to read in a few years, letting her know that it doesn’t matter what society expects a young girl to be. She can be whoever and whatever she wants.