Thursday, November 28, 2013

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

For some reason, it never struck me as embarrassing or odd to haul this book around in public with its flashy cover until one day, a virtual stranger came up to me and asked, 'Why are you reading that?' They'd never actually heard of the book, of course, which brings me back around to my book covers argument, which is a whole 'nother deal.

But this is a book review, so I'm going to try to keep it that way.

Apparently, the stars are lined against me when it comes to making actual book talk videos about things, and since my video editing program is refusing to cooperate with me, I thought I might as well jot down a few opinions on this book.

Libba Bray's pretty big in the book community right now. I can see part of the reason why, just by reading BEAUTY QUEENS. She's funny, she's loud, and she gets pretty up-in-your face with her opinions. It's hard to tell what this book was really trying to say: it's obviously meant to be satire, and it certainly doesn't take itself seriously, so it doesn't expect the reader to take it seriously. But it doesn't take a genius to see the social statement that Bray is trying to make in BEAUTY QUEENS.

Girls can act girly and still be badass. {Also a side note of 'gay and transsexual people are nothing to be afraid of!'}

This is a message I approve of wholeheartedly, but I feel like the book was so ridiculous in places that I couldn't enjoy it fully. I laughed at some points, and I definitely can see the charm in it: the little 'commercial breaks' and other creative extras were cute and fun. {I'm never against seeing a couple of spins on the old pen and paper print.} However, sometimes it was all... A bit too much. Also, the plot made no sense whatsoever and was extremely poorly constructed. This is clearly a character-driven book, but the storyline itself just took such a strange turn that I... God.
The basic idea has a lot of potential for humorous shenanigans on its own, but in addition to beauty queens stranded on a desert island, we also get a government conspiracy, Sarah Palin and Kim Jong Il in a heated, backstabbing political love affair, and a boat full of British rockstar pirates who literally appear out of nowhere and contribute basically nothing to the plot. {As you read on, you'll see that I got really pissed off about the British rockstar pirates. Seriously. The only one out of all of them who was just a little bit okay as a character was Sinjin, and yet still, so terrible. Do living people even say 'cor blimey' anymore? Maybe I'm too sensitive, but even in parody, I feel like racial and cultural stereotypes aren't something that people should be okay with.}

Obnoxious British stereotypes aside, the other stereotypes {of feminists, lesbians, etc.} were pretty bad, as well. Still keeping in mind that the book's a parody, I found them pretty obnoxious, and although I did end up liking most of the characters in the end, it was the sole non-stereotyped character that was my favourite throughout the book, so I honestly think they would've been better off without them. 

Speaking of my favourite character, Petra West and the whole transgender front was done spectacularly, in my opinion. Although with the whole princess and the frog thing, I just assumed she was really ugly and had some drastic plastic surgery done that she wanted to keep a secret. Anyway, yes, Petra was my favourite, hands down. She was by far the least ridiculous and easiest to handle. Also, since I don't think there are actual stereotypes for Rhode Islanders, there didn't seem to be any state-ish stereotypes for her character. {I was actually pretty surprised that there was no Miss New York, because that could've been a gold mine of stereotypes.}

The book does this weird thing of switching between arcs following the main characters' development and completely disregarding the rest. We get more development from the Kim Jong Il-clone than we do from Miss New Mexico. {Although I did love Miss NM in the end when she knocked a guy out with the tray in her head. I was concerned, though; what if the tray got pushed in more with the collision? Am I being ridiculous? Yes.}

I feel like I could write an entire essay splitting this book up into the good and the bad, but I might as well just make a list.

Good: Character development, lesson of acceptance, comedy, degradation of the shallow nature of American culture, occasional golden joke, great, consistent tone, creative formats and extras.

Bad: Offensive racial and cultural stereotypes, scattered plot, lots of poor jokes, some of the extras were unnecessary/distracting, uncertain themes, loads of seriously weird shit.

All in all, this is a book I would recommend for someone who's neither too critical nor easily offended and who's looking for a quick, humorous read. Basically, you need a really specific mindset to really appreciate this book, I think.