So a bunch of beauty queens crash land on an island. It sounds like the beginning of a great joke. Instead it is the premise of Libba Bray’s fantastic book, Beauty Queens. Bray is one of my favorite authors. She never disappoints! The contestants of the Teen Dream Pageant are stuck on an island, hoping to be rescued. At first they practice their talents and show numbers, but then realize they need to figure out to survive. Bray’s snarky writing makes for a hilarious read. She does a bit of a character study on each of the surviving beauty queens. Very few of them are what they seem and they all have secrets. It does remind me of Lost in that way, not to mention the whole island with secretive people on the other side thing. The most famous Teen Dream Beauty Queen is Ladybird Hope. She is an inspiration to several of the girls and her shameless self worship and ambition is very funny. The Mo Mo B. Cha Cha dictator character is priceless. Bray also sprinkles commercials for beauty products throughout the book that are outrageous. I love the way many of those products become weapons as the story unfolds. The reality shows are equally outrageous but not to far away from what we watch now. Which is pretty sad. She not only makes fun of beauty queens but has created a wonderful satire on our popular culture and what it means to be beautiful. I love the idea of girls really finding themselves once they are separated from popular culture. I read this book right after reading, Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein. Reading both of them together was a rich experience.
Some ideas for discussing with teens:
Talk about the advertisements and what techniques they use to get someone to buy their products. Talk about commercials they like.
Discuss reality TV.
Talk about Mary Lou’s sister’s romance where she says, “And she wanted so much to make him happy that she forgot how to make herself happy.” (pg. 171)
Discuss this passage, “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.” (pg. 177)
If you were stuck on an island what are the three things you would want with you?
Discuss what it means to be a “between person.” (pg. 191)
Discuss this passage, “…sometimes the truth does not set you free. Sometimes, it was a hard, lonely prison of a place to be.” (pg. 191)
Discuss this quote from Taylor, “I think I was always in the jungle. Before. It was always there. I think I had to come out here to find the answer.” (pg. 352)
Talk about Ladybird Hope and her quest to make girls mimic her and be perfect like her.
Have any of the teens been involved with pageants? What was it like?