Thursday, June 23, 2011

"Beauty Queens," by Libba Bray

I've given up on Libba Bray. Maybe I should consider her Gemma Doyle trilogy a beautiful exception to an otherwise clunker of a catalog. This book and her "Going Bovine" were absolutely terrible. And yet, she had a really great story in the "Zombies Vs. Unicorn" anthology. So what is going on, Ms. Bray?

I thought the premise of this book was fun and interesting: a plane bearing 50 Teen Dream beauty pageant queens and their TV crew crashes on an island. The surviving girls have to fend for themselves. What's not to like with this idea? Plenty of room for character growth, plot twists, and so on.

Instead, "Beauty Queens" tries so hard to be funny that it's painfully UNfunny. Every page has at least one footnote to "hilariously" explain the reference to some beauty product, reality TV show, celebrity, etc. The girls are hideously vapid, completely unfazed by the deaths of their fellow passengers, more worried about how they'll shave their legs than how they'll survive the jungle.

Except Bray wants to show that underneath all that, the girls are very intelligent, feeling, suffering from labels society has placed on them. The middle of the book was actually quite good (the only reason I gave the book the two stars), delving into the lives of each teen queen. These sections were written tenderly, each girl's personal story shared with respect and without the cheesy product placements or like, the, you know, like, speech impediments.

Despite their ballgown upbringing, we're expected to accept that they knew how to build huts, filter rainwater, dig an irrigation system and know which jungle goods were okay to eat.

Bray wants the reader to take her characters seriously, but *she* didn't take them seriously. The middle, like I said, was rather lovely. There's no reason that the entire book couldn't have had that tone and still use subtle humor. Instead of making fun of the teens, we could have been rooting them on. However, I had to cheer myself on just to finish the book.

2 stars

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