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Read This Book: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

March 13, 2013

READ THIS BOOK. I meant to write about it when I first read it, but I have a lot on my plate, books-wise, and it fell by the wayside. This Saturday I was at the library with a friend and she wanted to read a book by a woman. I handed her Beauty Queens. She finished it yesterday and our conversation really brought me back to everything I loved about it.

Brief plot summary: a plane full of beauty pageant contestants crash land on an island and they have to survive. It’s a satire, so a lot of the plot and many of the characters are really silly, but every character (except maybe the villains?) has a very real side too.

That summary makes the book sound so stupid and one-note, but it is incredible in part because it covers so much ground. This book is for you if you love gender, bodies, female sexuality/female sexual fluidity, disability issues, trans issues, class issues, race issues, television, coming out, safe sex, pirates, and, of course, young adult literature. Seriously. And not only does the book touch on all those things, Libba Bray does it with nuance, grace, and validation.

Since part of the narrative includes the character’s thoughts, you get insight into each of their backgrounds: where they came from, what they’re working towards/against, and the feelings difficult situations bring up. These girls struggle, in a way that feels very earnest, with all the things that brought them to the pageant and with who they are.  There is one character, Shanti (Miss California), who meets Nicole (Miss Colorado), and they both have an internal battle and a few verbal battles about who has the contestant-of-color on lock. YES! They know the drill and that in the scheme of this pageant only one can come out on top, but obviously that’s not all they are! One of the girls struggles with her desire to break free of her straight-laced image and become a pirate queen, living a wild life on the high seas. Should she be ashamed of her passion and sexual desire? No! Duh! One of the contestants is a textbook dumb blonde on paper, but through the course of the book she really comes into her own and she contributes in a way that isn’t patronizing. Who she becomes (in the book and the epilogue) isn’t really earth-shattering, but it’s her and it’s valid and that’s so important.

The way that Libba Bray covers so much, so deftly is really beyond me. The silly bits keep you entertained, but everything is so infused with reality and RAD attitudes that even when it’s at its silliest it has so much heart. The best thing about this book is that there’s room for everything and everybody. I want teenagers to read it. I want every person I meet to read it! Read it!

What happens when girls are left to their own devices on an island? Anything. Literally anything. They are who they are, they do what they want, they live their lives, and don’t apologize.

Me and Libba Bray when she was in Milwaukee! On a scale of 1-10, how jealous are you?

If you want to read this, and I HIGHLY RECOMMEND YOU DO, I’ll open up a thread on the Happy Bodies Goodreads group for us to talk about it.

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