Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

This book is too good: I had to start with more than one quote!

Mom: “It’s more than that, sweetheart.  Every time you use new Lady ‘Stache Off with triple beauty action, you’re contributing to our economy, our way of life.  Don’t you want to be a contributor to our economy?  Don’t you want to make sure we can have bikinis, cable, and porn?  What are you, a communist?”

A Word from your Sponsor: “The Corporation would like to apologize for the preceding pages.  Of course, it’s not all right for girls to behave this way.  Sexuality is not meant to be this way-an honest, consensual expression in which a girl might take an active role when she feels good and ready and not one minute before.  No. Sexual desire is meant to sell soap. And cars. And beer. And religion.”

A plane full of Miss Teen Dream beauty contestants crash lands on a deserted island.  Armed with sequined evening gowns, safety razors, and mascara wands, the young women begin to set up home in the wilderness.  As they are doing so, they uncover conspiracies and corporate abuses of power (Ladybird Hope, head of The Corporation and presidential candidate) is involved in illegal arms trade, and is setting up the plane crash as a ratings boost.  There are pirates, mangy snakes, homemade weaponry, gummy bears, and so much satire that it will blow your mind.

I almost didn’t know how to take this book: there was just so much going on in it!  But not in a bad way; it’s just simply stunning.  In the hands of a lesser author, this could be a disaster, but with Printz award-winner Libba Bray, it’s a minor masterpiece.  She subverts the cutthroat-girl-competition paradigm and writes instead about girls celebrating each other and working together to achieve a common goal (that is, not getting eaten by snakes in the jungle).  The girls discuss identity questions, gender expectations, societal pressures, and consumerist culture, but all in this almost wacky setting, against the backdrop of the island and the looming Corporation.

The book is formatted like a television show, with commercials, Fun Facts pages for each of the young women, alternate endings, and a series of hilarious footnotes.  Bray is both ruthless and clever in her satire: she undermines consumerism by showing us all how ridiculous it can be when taken to its logical extreme.  Careful readers will notice gems such as George Bush’s infamous “misunderestimate”, and several nods to Sarah Palin.  It’s witty, zany, and so multi-layered that I feel like I need to read it again in order to fully appreciate it.  My very favorite parts were where The Corporation would directly address the readers.  Hi-la-ri-ous!

Oh, and did I mention the great characters?  Oh yeah-there’s a lesbian. A transgender girl, a girl who got into the pageant only because she wants to destroy it and everything it represents.  There are girls figuring out their sexual identity.  There are girls dealing with how their minority status excludes them from larger society.  There’s a hearing-impaired girl who is sick of pretending it’s perfectly all right that she’s got a disability, just so she doesn’t make everyone else feel guilty.  The best part is that there are no stock characters in this novel:  everyone is well-developed and acts in a realistic way.  I loved that the two queer girls didn’t fall in love, because you know what? That’s what happens in real life.

This is an intelligent look at capitalism and expectations of women in society, mixed with a lot of madcap action and appealing characters.  I think you’ll like it!

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://libba-bray.livejournal.com/

Bray, Libba. Beauty Queens. Scholastic: New York, 2011. 396 pp. Ages 15-18.

 

 

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Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde

“‘I’m trying to jumpstart the world.’

‘What does that mean?’

‘I’m trying to remind the world to be what it knows it should be.'”

Elle’s beautiful, aloof mother dumps her in a New York apartment alone, just shy of her 16th birthday.  The reasoning:  her mother has a new boyfriend, and he’s just not interested in having a teenager hanging around.  So Elle gets her own apartment, conveniently out of the way.  After she moves in, she meets Frank, her next-door neighbor.  Right away, she notices something different about him.  She finds herself drawn to him.  He’s a great listener, and Elle really hasn’t had anyone to really listen to her in her life before.

When her new group of friends point out that they think Frank is transgender, Elle becomes very upset.  During her sheltered life, she has never been exposed to any of the GLBT crowd before.  She’s not sure what to do, and for a while she avoids Frank and her friends at school.   She has a lot to think about.

That’s the point of this book: what Elle is thinking about.  It’s not a plot-driven story; it’s more about how Elle’s thoughts develop and change.  I like that, actually.  It gives the story a quiet, introspective feel.  The language is simple, almost sparse, and feels thoughtful in the sense that these are Elle’s thoughts, her first-person narrative.  She honestly discusses her preconceptions, hurts and fears throughout the book.

I am always grateful to see books about transpeople.  One of the most powerful motivators of hatred is fear and ignorance, and it’s a step in the right direction to be exposed to many different types of people in this nonjudgmental way.  That said, I would really like to see more of these books about GLBT characters to be written by GLBT authors.  I’m not saying that this would have been a better book had the author been transgender herself, but I would like to see more of our voices out there.

All in all, a quiet, pleasant read.  Happy reading!

Author’s website: http://www.catherineryanhyde.com/

Hyde, Catherine Ryan. Jumpstart the World.New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010.  208 pp.  Grades 8-10.