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This Could Be the Year For the Real Thing

Sparkle Ponies, unite! Erin reviews Beauty Queens by Libba Bray.

This Could Be the Year For the Real Thing

BOOK REPORT for Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Cover Story: Oliver's Army
BFF Charm: Yay Plus 8
Swoonworthy Scale: 7
Talky Talk: Feminism 101 With Mindy Kaling As Your Professor
Bonus Factors: Toddlers and Tiaras, The Fifty Nifty United States, Pirates, LGBTQ, The Politics of Hair, Kim Jong Il, Sarah Palin, Footnotes
Relationship Status: Islands in the Stream

Cover Story: Oliver's Army

Not that this book is made up of poor folk who have no career options because their government and society have failed them and so they join the infantry and then get killed. Just because I want this kind of book cover to be, like Oliver's Army, here to stay.

Y'all? I love this cover. I don't even know why, particularly; it totally has things I hate (headless body! Uncomfortable display of bare skin! Lurid colors!). But I think that's why I love it, because it turns those Bad Cover conventions on their head. A headless body . . . strapped with a bandolier of lipsticks. Too bright, beachy colors that let you know that this book isn't quite what it seems.

Also, I think the cover is sort of a talking point, and for once I don't mind people coming up to me and asking me what I'm reading, because I will immediately thrust it at them and say, "Beauty Queens! BEAUUUTY QUEEEEEENS!"

The Deal:

The contestants of the Miss Teen Dream Pageant thought that their biggest struggle would be perfecting their circle-turn and ensuring that their hair stayed perfectly flat-ironed throughout the competition. That all changed when their plane crashed into a presumably deserted island* and the few survivors had a big wake-up call in the form of giant snakes and mysterious experiments on the island.

Miss Texas, Miss New Mexico, Miss Rhode Island and the others must now join together to survive,but will the stress of island living - or the arrival of sexy pirates - prove too much for these pageant girls?

*Thank you, Libba, for not calling it a "desert island." WHAT IS A DESERT ISLAND; THAT MAKES NO CLIMATIC SENSE. If it is surrounded by water, it is an island. If it is surrounded by water then IT OBVIOUSLY RAINS A LOT; ERGO, NO DESERT.

BFF Charm: Yay Plus 8

(Yes, that is clearly our BFF charm wearing Kate Gosselin's hair)

SO MANY BFF CHARMS TO BESTOW!! What I love about Beauty Queens is that half of these BFF charms snuck up on me. I'd be sitting there, reading, and thinking, "Miss Texas, you so crazy! Miss Mississippi, why'd you have to be the dumb one? Can't the two of you represent?!" And then, bam! A few short chapters later, I was sobbing into my hair and promising Miss Texas and Miss Mississippi that we'd be BFF 4 LYFE!

So here's a quick run-down of my nine new BFFs, and why I love them:

1.  Dear Adina, aka Miss New Hampshire,
I love you for your snark, for your desire to Take Down The Man, for your leadership of the Miss Teen Dreamers and for your vulnerability in the face of hot pirates.

2.  Dear Petra, aka Miss Rhode Island,
I think I love you most of all. I don't want to spoil your awesomeness, but you were the subject of several text messages and status updates consisting only of exclamation marks. Girl, you know it's true! Oooh ooh ooh, I love you!

3.  Dear Jennifer, aka Miss Michigan,
I love your self-assuredness in some aspects and your total cluelessness in others. And I love that, even though you are a lesbian, you haven't been trotted out as some token Perfect Pretty Princess without flaws.

4.  Dear Shanti, Miss California,
Will you please make me popadam as your mother and grandmother taught you?

5.  Dear Sosie, Miss Illinois.
Two words: Helen Keller-bration!

6.  Dear Mary Lou, Miss Nebraska,
I think I might love you most of all when I'm not busy loving Petra most of all. We "cursed" girls have to stick together, after all.

7.  Taylor, Taylor, Taylor.
Obvs I love you, cause you're from Texas and cause you're crazy and yet, despite that, highly functional. My heart breaks for you, and I just want to wrap you up in bunting and keep you safe.

8.  Nicole, Miss Colorado.
Thank you for not being the Token Black Girl. And for saying a billion things thatI want to say everyday (and to nearly every book I read).

9.  Tiara, aka Miss Mississippi.
Tiara, at first I wanted to scream anytime you came on the page, particularly since Libba seems to think you can't spell Mississippi, even though EVERYONE in Mississippi knows how to spell it (em-eye-crooked letter-crooked letter-eye-crooked letter-crooked letter-eye-humpback-humpback-eye). But in you, I saw all those Toddlers and Tiaras girls, all grown up, and my heart simultaneously broke and also lifted for them, and you.

Swoonworthy Scale: 7

The swoon is ALL OVER THE MAP in this book, you guys! By which I mean, take a map of an island. Draw, like, six hearts on it. Then make those hearts the swoonworthy scale for individual couples!

What I love - wait, I just realized that I already said "What I love about this book is." The word "what" should have a plural form to denote the BAZILLION THINGS I LOVED ABOUT THIS BOOK. So I am going to create a new word! "Whats" I loved about this book is that there are several couples to root for, so fans of swoon can take their pick: the tender first love that turns sort of possessive? The hot, sexy "he's up to no good, girl" sex-o-rama? The very nature of Sinjin?

Talky Talk: Feminism 101 With Mindy Kaling As Your Professor

I just want this book to be my very best friend. I want to read it all the time. I want all the fist-pumping quotes tattoed upon my skin. But, more than anything, I want it to be a light-hearted, yet kickass, Intro to Feminism textbook that I can loan to those assholes who are all, "Oh, I don't consider myself a feminist because I shave my legs" (or whatever the common excuse is these days. also of note: "I can't be a feminist cause I'm a guy." and "I'm not a feminist because I have a sense of humor.), and then I can prove that, you know, it's okay to both have a sense of humor AND think that all people should be afforded the same rights, responsibilities, opportunities and privileges, regardless of sex or gender or race or creed or nationality or citizenship status.

This book is peppered with pop culture jokes about reality tv, politics and gender issues, while also displaying a bunch of kick-ass ladies (and a few kickass pirates) who prove that strong women are everywhere you look. And, "whats" I love about Beauty Queens is that it isn't all rah-rah-sisterhood, all the time, and that Libba Bray points out how truly stupid women can be about some things.

I started trying to write down the page of every quote that made me pump my fist, but I soon figured out I was writing down every other page. So, instead, I'm just going to randomly open the book to five different pages, and I'm CONFIDENT I'll find something kickass to quote. Dig:

"I'm not that kind of Indian," Shanti said, her practiced smile never leaving her face, though it faltered just a bit, and in that slight wobble was something hard and angry, something that looked like centuries of colonial oppression boiling upinto an I'm-going-to-kick-your-ass-in-this-pageant-and-then-take-over-all-your-beauty-outsourcing-needs hatred.

"That's when my mom told me that I was being a bad little girl and nobody loved bad little girls. So I'd better straighten up, stop crying, be quiet, and get my best smile on, or she was gonna sell all my crowns and trophies. . . . I stopped crying."

"I don't understand - you guys ate those berries and you're fine. . . . I wonder how come it's not wearing off for Taylor."

"Her bitch cells are binding to the proteins," Petra murmured.

With a heavy sigh, Taylor examined the hands that had done this thing, her hands, as if seeing them for the first time. The long, slim fingers. The mud-caked knuckles. The strip of pale skin on her fourth finger where her sweet sixteen ring had been. She turned her hands over and over, palms to backs, backs to palms, marveling. She bend her fingers to inspect her nails and the frown returned.

No. This was all wrong. What had she done? When did this happen?

"Oh, no," she said as her eyes filled with tears. "I broke a nail."

"We are supposed to be sisters. Sisters who love and trust one another, who work together until it's clear that there is a favorite sister chosen to be the best and wear a pretty crown."

Bonus Factor: Toddlers and Tiaras

Any parent - except for those crazy ones that always end up in the Daily Fail - will tell you that there are certain things you keep quiet from your kids. Either for safety reasons (no, kid, the bogeyman won't ACTUALLY get you if you open your door to strangers, but just to be safe . . .), or for maturity levels (dear kid, guess what! Most of life totally sucks and there's not a lot to live for! Try hard in school today!) or because you know that, should they learn this piece of vital info, your life will be over.

That's my approach with my kid and the show Toddlers and Tiaras. I have raised a princess, for all my trying otherwise, and if she knew that there existed a place where you could win MONEY for DRESSING UP and performing a SERIOUS DANCE ROUTINE, she'd be all over that shit, and I'd be broker than I already am.

Which is why I only watch Toddlers and Tiaras after she goes to bed. Obviously.

Anyway, point! I have one! Beauty pageants are HILARIOUS.

Bonus Factor: The Fifty Nifty United States

. . . from thirteen original colonies! Scout 'em, shout 'em, tell all about 'em! One by one till we've given a name to every state in the USA! Aaaaalllaaaaaabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas . . .

Okay, I'll stop. (But I DO know the whole thing and I can sing it really fast!) I loved that the survivors of the Miss Teen Dream pageant so accurately represented their home states, for better or for worse.

Bonus Factor: Pirates

SEXY pirates! The influx of pirates in this book turned an already awesome book into a ridiculously awesome book, and I basically want Sinjin to be my pirate boyfriend FOREVER.

Bonus Factor: LGBTQ

Let's hear it for the boy! And the girl! And the girl who was born with boy sex organs! And the girls who like girls and the boys who like girls who are trans!

Bonus Factor: The Politics of Hair

Just when I thought this book couldn't get any better, with its racially diverse(ish, but that's the point) cast and its gender and sexuality talk, Libba totally snuck in some bits about the politics of Black hair. Hell, the fact that she even touched on it at all is saying something, because so many people like to pretend that the racism of hair is something that doesn't exist.

Bonus Factor: Kim Jong Il

I, for one, love Kim Jong Il. Oh, not as a person, or anything, and I hate that he has the power to ruin so many people's lives, but as a character, he's hysterical. Libba Bray obviously agrees, because she's written him into this book, and he's even funnier here. Possibly because his second in command is a stuffed lemur named General Good Times.

Bonus Factor: Sarah Palin

The only person more ridiculous than Kim Jong Il is Sarah Palin, so it's fitting that she's in this book as well. After all, once a beauty queen, always a beauty queen . . .

Bonus Factor: Footnotes

There are very few things I love more than books with hysterical footnotes in them. It's why Jonathan Strange is in my top five books of all time. FOOTNOTES ARE THE BEST!

Casting Call:

What I want to do is just cast half the people from my favorite pageant movie ever, Drop Dead Gorgeous. Even if they are all way too old now. ("With one week to go before the pageant, I was finishing my outfit, rehearsing my talent, brushing up on current events, and running 18 miles a day on about 400 calories. I. Was. Ready.")

But they are too old, so instead I will go with these:

Aimee Teegarden as Taylor

Emilia Clarke as Mary Lou

Emma Roberts as Adina

Tina Fey as Ladybird Hope

Relationship Status: Islands In the Stream

Oh book, when I got you there was joy unknown. I set out to read you with a fine-toothed comb! I was weary inside; but you had something going on.

You do something to me that I can't explain; I read you again and I feel no pain! Every twinge in my abs, says that you have made me laugh again.

Baby my love ain't blind! It required you to be funny! This love I feel's cause you're so brill, honey. I'll read you again, uh huh! Probably tomorrow if I'm honest, uh huh!

Island in the stream! That is what you are! No book can reach you now! You've just advanced that far! Sail away with me, to a deserted isle! Where I'll read you over and over, uh huh! Just this book and me forever, uh huh!

So . . . yeah. I really liked this book.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my review copy from Scholastic. I received neither money nor cocktails for this review (damnit!). Beauty Queens is in stores now!

Beauty Queens is the FYA Book Club selection for August 2011!

Erin Callahan's photo About the Author: Erin is loud, foul-mouthed, an unrepentant lover of trashy movies and believes that champagne should be an every day drink. When she isn't drowning in a sea of engineers for whom Dilbert is still uproariously funny, she's writing about books, tv, the cult of VC Andrews and more.
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