Synopsis: A plane full of Miss Teen Dream beauty pageant contestants crash lands on a not-quite-deserted island. Wackiness and cattiness ensues. Fish are caught with straightening irons and scaled with safety razors. Hairspray is used as a weapon. There is a trebuchet that fires high heels. How can you not love this?
Oh. Muh. Gawd. First of all, can I just say how much of a tremendous girl crush I have on Libba Bray right now? Yes? OK, thanks. I have a tremendous girl crush on Libba Bray right now.
Beauty Queens is fricking hilarious. No, really. It’s brilliantly funny. I actually laughed out loud multiple times. And while I’ve always thought of myself as having a pretty good sense of humor, I don’t generally do funny books (aside from David Sedaris, because if you don’t like David Sedaris there is a spot reserved for you in hell. Just kidding. But not really.). To me they always seem like they’re trying WAY too hard and aren’t nearly as funny as they think they are. Kind of like the Weird Al Yankovic of books (no. he’s not funny. just no.). With this one, though, Bray busts out the lollerskates.
For once, let’s judge a book by its cover. Can you believe that shit? As soon as I saw the cover I knew I had to read this. The bandolier made of lipsticks is nothing short of pure genius. As I read the book, I just knew that the girl on the cover is Taylor Rene Krystal Hawkins, Miss Texas. Even if it wasn’t the intention, it’s totally her. If you’ve read the book you know exactly what I mean. This is absolutely one of my favorite covers of all time. It just perfectly represents what’s inside.
I’m going to guess that Toddlers & Tiaras isn’t must-see tv in Libba’s house. She brings the snark on every single page, which I both admire and respect. She absolutely eviscerates pop culture and everything concerned with it, from beauty pageants to boy bands to depilatory cream. It’s just absolutely scathing and dripping with sarcasm. This is the highest compliment I can give: if I were to write a book, I would want it to be like Beauty Queens.
That said, beneath all of the outward ridicule of pageant girls and American tv culture there is quite a bit of social commentary. Bray’s beauty queens deal with issues like racism, sexism, LGBT issues, society’s treatment of women, relationships, parental pressure, and abandonment. Even these girls who seem perfect on the outside are dealing with secret problems. Nobody is truly happy. It may be reeeeally hard to feel sorry for beautiful pageant girls, but Bray really humanizes them. Of course, they inevitably do something so dumb that you go right back to wanting to slap the shit out of them, but there are times when you genuinely do feel sorry for them. There’s also a surprising amount of feminist commentary present considering that beauty pageants are about as feminist as a 1950s sitcom.
At the heart, though, Beauty Queens is a damn funny book and I found the copious footnotes to be the best/funniest part. They’re primarily full of commercials for ridiculous products made by and television shows produced by “The Corporation,” sponsors of the Miss Teen Dream pageant and all-around evil conglomeration. Some of my favorites:
In one chapter, one of the contestants has taken over hosting duties of the pageant because Fabio Testosterone, the actual host, has been “caught frolicking in an illegal Skee-ball emporium with the hot male star of Your Blood Is, Like, So Hot*” The footnote to this sentence reads:
“Your Blood Is, Like, So Hot, the premium cable TV series about small-town predatory hemophiliacs who lie around looking anemic and sexy while trying not to bruise. Based on the French drama Le Monde C’est La Mienne (rough translation: Life is Pain. Here is some soft cheese)”
Funny, right? And just because it made me actually el oh el, another quote:
“I am for Miss Ohio, General,” MoMo whispered loudly to General Good Times. “Her buttocks remind me of tiny cats.”
I don’t know if it was my mood or what, but that struck me as so funny I giggled for a solid two minutes before I could pull myself together. I actually snorted/snarfed. Libba Bray made me snarf.
But while the book is funny, Bray’s prose can actually be quite lyrical as well. For example:
“And across the great land, from the glistening malls on the prairies to the department stores in the teeming cities to those small, cracker-box houses that can barely contain the bottled-up dreams and discontent of those who must be more, the televisions flicker, bathing the watchers in its seductive blue-gray glow.” That’s just…pretty. TV shouldn’t sound pretty, but it does.
And I’m going to stop raving about this book now and encourage you to GO OUT AND PROCURE IT BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY. If you love to laugh, give this one a try. For reals. Also, my favorite character? General Good Times. By a mile.
4/5 stars…I Like It Very Much!