Dictionary.com defines satire as “a literary composition, in verse or prose, in which human folly and vice are held up to scorn, derision, or ridicule.” Beauty Queens most certainly falls into this category. Delicious, delicious satire, but with just the right amount of bite to be palatable to the YA genre.
Survival. Of the fittest. 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 —or learn to run wild? And what should happen when the sexy pirates show up?
-Beauty Queens inside flap
The book opens with a plane crash. Fifty young-women from around the United States are flying to a tropical island to compete in the Miss Team Dream Pageant. Their plane crashes instead and not all of them survive. Throw together Lost, Lord of the Flies, Drop Dead Gorgeous, mix in a whole lotta whip-smart funny, shake and pour into a coconut shell cracked open with a stiletto heel, and you’ve got Beauty Queens.
This is a great summer read in that it has an ocean and a beach in it, and pirates, don’t forget about the pirates. There is also some evil masterminding going on. And explosions, and some kissing. It’s got everything, especially awesome little footnotes that had me snorting and “commercial breaks” for television shows I actually kinda wished existed. Patriot Daughters most of all. I seriously howled with laughter and scared my dog, it struck me so funny. Bray’s past work in the advertising industry is put too good use with some hilarious product tag lines for even funnier products. Also a tad bit scary as I can imagine some of these products hitting selves.
Bray wields her mighty satirical sword at the powers that be in this world, who’s life work it is to make these, and all, women feel like crap, i.e. the media and beauty industries. The mythical beast in Beauty Queens, ripe for slaying, is known only as “The Corporation.” The Corporation is involved in everything from how you remove hair to what you watch on television. The Corporation’s motto is “Because your life can always be better™.” It’s just that they are the ones defining what “better” means and, yeah… let’s just say their definition is a little wonky.
The story is told from a third person omniscient point of view, a refreshing change from all of the first-person narrative I’ve been reading lately. The cast of Beauty Queens is a large one, and the girls all start out with very stereotypical “beauty queen” personalities, but Bray does a stellar job of exfoliating each of the girls as the book goes along. They are all there, the uber-pageant queen, the dumb blonde(s), the “disabilities haven’t stopped me” girl, the “brown” one, but there are two (Uh, oh! Can’t have too much color up there in the final five! What will they do?), the angry feminist, and a few others. I don’t want to be completely biased here, there is something to love about all the girls, but Petra, Miss Rhode Island, she’s my girl. You gotta love Petra. Each girl gets a chance to examine their life and discover who they are truly meant to be. It’s sometimes funny, sometimes heart-breaking, but always thought-provoking.
There are a few other characters that are the stereotypical “bad guys” too, but like the girls, there is more motivating them than it first appears. Those pirates I mentioned above? There is your beefcake. Beefcake is good! There are a lot of ways this book could have gone wrong for me, but it didn’t. I found myself laughing at the absurd comedy one minute and then tipping my hat to Bray’s poignancy the next. This isn’t a serious read, but it’s a serious book. It deals with our beliefs of what we as women (and men) see and think of ourselves. What we are willing to buy and be sold, not just economically, but spiritually and fundamentally, but “packed” in a very pretty box. With extra aloe.