by Libba Bray
Middle School, High School Scholastic 396 pp.
5/11 978-0-439-89597-2 $18.99
It’s The Lord of the Flies with sparkle and hair-straightening irons. Except here, the castaways, teen beauty pageant contestants whose plane has crashed en route to competition, don’t degenerate into savagery; they use their “can-do” Miss Teen Dream spirit to survive — even thrive — on what they assume is a deserted island. (Actually, it’s home to a government conspiracy.) Oh, and the straightening irons? They use those to catch fish. At first, Bray’s novel seems to be simply a smart, wickedly funny send-up of pageant culture. Of course Miss Teen Dream Texas emerges early on as the self-proclaimed leader. She plans for the girls to find food and shelter while still practicing their dance routines and interview skills because, as she says, “in the pageant of life, a girl picks up fallen sequins and turns them into a brand-new dress of awesome.” Yet though the jokes fly thick as unplucked brows, Bray also goes deeper into each character to show how our culture’s insidious focus on female perfection keeps girls from being who they are. Away from the media images generated by The Corporation (satirical Corporation-run “commercial breaks” appear throughout), a transgender contestant finds love with a reality TV pirate while a girl whose family is from India gets to drop the grateful-immigrant act the judges expect. Escaping civilization — the best thing that could happen to a teenage girl? Sure looks that way.
Review of Beauty Queens