07 June 2011

What I Learned from Miss Teen Dream

Beauty Queens

Libba Bray

5 Stars

Printz Award winner Libba Bray is back with a tale that involves a plane crash, national beauty pageant contestants, a secret militaristic corporation, and desert island survival. It’s irreverent and thought provoking, and laugh-out-loud funny. When the Miss Teen Dream Pageant plane goes down over the ocean, there are only a handful of pageant contestant survivors. The girls are divided – should they keep practicing their routines and wait for rescue? Or should they buckle down and try to survive in the tropical jungle they’ve been dropped down in? And what will they do when a band of sexy pirates show up? Or when they find the secret headquarters of The Corporation – sponsor of The Miss Teen Dream Pageant? And what exactly will happen now that they are separated from everything they’ve ever known including eyeliner, high heels, and parents with high expectations? Not to mention lack of food and water. Libba Bray takes readers on an adventure that will make you laugh, make you think, and make sure you never see beauty the same way again.
This book...wow. Just plain wow. I knew it was going to be hilarious and quirky and thought-provoking, because all Libba Bray's other books are, but I had no idea it would impact me so strongly! I mean, this was probably the funniest book I've read all year - Libba Bray is a master of satire. Our beauty-and-perfection-obsessed-society is parodied and mocked in such a way that you read a section, immediately laugh out loud, re-read it, and then fall into deep thought, because, hey, it was undeniably amusing, but it sounds awfully, uncomfortably close to real life. I would think about how ridiculous something sounded and then realize that the exact same thing happens in our society all the time. A lot of this clever satire shows up in the form of commercial breaks - yes, commercial breaks - which are quite possibly the best literary device ever. However, even without the comments on society, there were so many snarky, laugh-out-loud moments that I swear I spent half the book in stitches. I loved how each of the characters was unique and had their own story, which made it really interesting to follow their different story arcs and feel for them when they went through ups and downs. I didn't cry for any of the characters, but I felt something that might be better - I felt empowered and I felt proud. Every time one of the girls were discovered their own strength, cast off a label, took control of their own future, or learned to love themselves, I cheered for them and I realized that if they could accept themselves, why couldn't I accept myself? I also adored how the characters were so very diverse. Different races, different backgrounds, different sexual orientations, different genders, different abilities, different hopes, and different views - all of them reflected reality.

It would be so easy for me to make a list of things I learned from Beauty Queens with items like "how to survive on a desert island", "not to make deals with crazy dictators", and "the evil villain's lair is always inside the volcano" - and I did, in fact, learn plenty about those things. But one of the things I adore about Libba Bray's writing is that it's layered. There is something more meaningful under the surface, which is not to say that what's on the surface isn't entertaining and fabulous, but the emotions and themes and significance underneath are so important. So, below is my 'real' list of what Beauty Queens really taught me about myself, about other people, about guys, about feminism, and about society:
  • I don't need to be so obsessed with how I look and what other people think of me. What matters is that I accept myself - fat, skinny, tall, short, smart, slow, any race, any gender, any disability, any sexual orientation. I deserve to be confident in myself.
  • I don't need to apologize when I express my opinions or talk about how I feel. My thoughts are just as important as anyone else's, so why should I say sorry?
  • Society does a lot to objectify females and undermine their self-esteem. Actually, people in general, not just girls. We need to stop letting harmful messages in the media and ridiculous standards define us.
  • You don't have to be a female to be a feminist.
  • There are guys out there who are jerks, yes. The ones who will objectify girls and disrespect them and then come back and beg for forgiveness. But there are also the guys who will accept girls for who they are.
  • People are complicated (I know, you had no idea). But seriously - we're all patchwork quilts of sorrows and joys and hopes and dreams and pains and cruelty and kindness and confidence and self-deprecation. And that means we're all different, and that means that we need to accept each other.
  • It's okay to be confused about who I am and what I want - I'll figure it out in the end, and yes, I will make mistakes along the way.
Clearly, I love this book, and it's definitely made a difference in my life and my viewpoint. Go read it! May your nails be perfectly manicured and your catapults well-stocked with stilettos for ammunition.

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