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Tansy Rayner Roberts

Beauty Queens, by Libba Bray

December 19th, 2011 at 20:35

This book has just gone straight to the top of the list of books I hope my daughters will steal from my shelves a year or two before I would have thought they were ready for them.

Imagine a gang of bewildered teen beauty queens, stranded on a desert island after a plane crash, forced to use their pageant skills as survival skills, and learning layer by layer to discard the crap that western society places on the shoulders of young women.

Imagine a high camp satire peopled with the cheerleaders from Glee and Bring it On, the female casts of Clueless and 10 Things I Hate About You, not to mention a few of those Whip It roller derby girls, with a script that doesn’t just sneak the occasional feminist zinger in with the boys-are-hot banter, but is actually all about how women are awesome, even the dumb ones and the pretty ones and the bitchy ones and the ones who have been raised by our culture to hate other women, and themselves.

But… it’s funny. Really funny. Bray has a stiletto-sharp pen which she uses to stab viciously at so many problematic aspects of western society that affect teenagers – at reality TV, and sex, and romantic pressures, and sexism, and the “beauty” industry, and unrealistic expectations, and the media. There are two non-white characters (one African-American, one Indian) who honestly don’t know how to deal with each other at first because they’re both so used to being the only brown girl in a sea of privileged white girls, and it feels like becoming friends is the most subversive thing they can possibly do; there’s a trans character whose story arc makes me ridiculously happy; there’s a tough as nails lesbian and a deaf girl who has to deal with questioning sexuality as well as her disability. There’s a girl whose most important possession is her purity ring, and there’s one who came along to bring all the others down… oh, and there’s one with an in flight tray stuck permanently in her forehead.

Beauty Queens is hilarious and entertaining and sexy and smart, so smart that I have spent the last several days thinking about it, and grinning my face off, and not being able to wait to get back to it.

Beauty Queens is also an important book. It’s a book that is overwhelmingly positive about so many aspects of girl culture that are often sneered at or taken too lightly in our culture. It’s a book about friendship, and love, and how you don’t have to kiss the boy just because the music is rising and that’s the way romantic comedies are supposed to end.

There are boys in it too. They are pirates. Mascara might be involved. I mentioned it’s funny, right?

If this book was a movie it would be the best girlfriend movie ever. But it’s hard to imagine a story this awesome and subversive being able to retain its awesomeness in the Hollywood machine. Maybe, just maybe, the pitch (teen beauty queens crash on a desert island, it’s like Clueless meets Survivor, okay?) would hit all those lovely money buttons so hard that the Powers That Be might not notice the feminist banter and anti-media subtext.

And the big question is, who would we cast as Ladybird Hope? My vote is for Alicia Silverstone.

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One Response to “Beauty Queens, by Libba Bray”

  1. Björn Lindström Says:

    This is something I wouldn’t have found myself but now have to read. Thanks!

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