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Monday, August 8, 2011

Beauty Queens, written by Libba Gray. Scholastic, 2011. $20.99 ages 13 and up

"Shanti sat next to Harris. "So let me get this straight: You booted the indigenous people off this land. You screwed up the environment. You tested products on helpless animals. Your 'Made in America' label is really made offshore. And now you're dealing illegal arms to a country we've levied sanctions against and you plan to murder us and frame them for it so you can go to war and take over their resources? Any rights you didn't violate or laws you didn't break?"
Harris thought for a second. "Our coffee is free trade.""

I could go on and on, sharing passages that made me laugh out loud, snicker to myself and even smile with total understanding for some of the issues that this group of young women face when their plane crashes on a remote island.

Only fifteen Miss Teen Dream contestants survive the crash. They display widely diverse skills when coming to terms with their predicament, and the need to survive. They learn much about themselves, staying upbeat for the most part and using the knowledge they have and the remaining cargo to find food and water, create shelter and protect themselves from the dangers that island life affords. Not to mention the fact that The Corporation, the owner of the pageant, has secret headquarters on the other side of said island. From there they make deals for arms with world dictators...the one we meet is MoMo B. ChaCha, an eccentric leader who fancies himself in love with Ladybird Hope, mastermind of the Miss Teen Dream pageant and head honcho of The Corporation.

Rescue may lead to discovery and so, the Corporation does damage control, finally determining that the only way to protect their operation is to rid themselves of the remaining contestants by making it look like MoMo's men are the assassins. Public opinion is sure to bring the Corporation into favor with the world if they are responsible for their capture. The girls have some ideas of their own.

The book satirizes consumer culture, reality TV, politics, rom-coms, the beauty industry, and religion while exploring issues of gender, race, sexuality, beauty, and identity. It will make any reader stop and take stock of their thoughts on such issues, perhaps going so far as to examine their own values. To add to that,  they will be part of a crazed adventure that has man-eating snakes, exploding beauty products, reality-show pirates (too gorgeous to be true), commando attacks on the enemy, and fun, fun, fun!

As I said at the beginning, almost every page offers a quote that I would love to share. I will leave you with only a few of my favorites.

While awaiting rescue (which is sure to be imminent), the girls recognize that they have no food to sustain them until such time:

"Ohmigosh. No food at all." Tiara sank down on the sand as if the full weight of their predicament had finally hit her. She blinked back tears. And then that megawatt smile that belonged on cereal boxes across the nation reappeared. "I am going to be so superskinny by pageant time!"

The girls learn much during their time on the island...all have changed, most for the better, by the time they are rescued. They work together, form alliances, support each other and become who they truly are when removed from the competitive unreality of beauty pageants.

I think Mary Lou speaks for all of them at one point in the book:

"Mary Lou wiped fruit juice from her mouth with the back of her hand. "Maybe girls need an island to find themselves. Maybe they need a place where no one's watching them so they can be who they really are."

If you know a teen who loves satire, I cannot imagine a better book from this year's crop!

Bravo, Libba Gray!

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