I wanted to pick this book up because it reminded me of:
This review contains *spoilers*.
And also because Lair of Dreams left me in a bit of a reading slump, and what better way to get out of one than by reading another book by the same author, am I right?
“Our tale begins with a sudden fall from blue skies, with screams and prayers and a camera crew bravely recording every bit of the turbulence and drama.”
When a plane crash strands thirteen teen beauty contestants on a mysterious island, they struggle to survive, to get along with one another, to combat the island’s other diabolical occupants, and to learn their dance numbers in case they are rescued in time for the competition.
We get to know each of the thirteen through the ‘Fun Facts About Me’ page, which I thoroughly enjoyed and decided to include some of my favorite facts:
- Adina Greenberg’s fun fact:
“My platform is Identifying Misogyny in American Culture. It’s all about helping girls ID the objectification of women when they see it. You know, like when girls are asked to parade around in bathing suits and heels and get scored on that.”
- Jennifer Huberman’s fun fact:
“My personal motto is: WWWWD?: What Would Wonder Woman Do?”
- Petra West’s fun fact:
“The thing that scares me most is not being myself.”
- Sosie Simmons’ fun fact:
“I am hearing impaired but that doesn’t stop me! I hear with my heart. Well, not really. Because, as anybody who is not a complete and total moron knows, the heart does not have ears. This is the kind of s**t they make disabled people say all the time so everybody’s all “okay” with us. Soooo annoying.”
- Mary Lou Novak’s fun fact:
“The most important quality in a friend is to be yourself. Unless you’re not a very nice person. Then you should try to be somebody else.”
- Taylor Rene Krystal Hawkins’s fun fact:
“Personal motto: “God made me beautiful. The least I can do is share it with the world.”
And speaking of favorites of mine, I found Petra to be one of the most compelling characters within this storyline. I completely fell in love with her when we were told the tale her mother used to tell her as a bedtime story.
The story was about a frog cheerfully insisting to all in the meadow that it was a princess-in-waiting.
“Before sleep each night, the frog prayed to the four winds, to the great fish, to the sun above, and to the goddess moon that when it woke, it would be a princess. Yet each morning, the frog opened its eyes to find it was still only a frog. How could nature be so wrong about something so important?”
“The Wise Witch was very grateful to the little frog. She kept her promise. “What is your heart’s desire?” she asked.
But the frog had almost given up on its wish. It didn’t know if such a wish were possible. “Well,” it said softly, afraid, “I have always wanted to be a princess. But I have seen myself in the river. And it has shown me that I am a frog.”
The witch smiled. “The river does not know everything. Look again.”
It’s one of the most beautiful stories that I’ve read.
Also, the parts where the girls just talked with one another about what they missed and didn’t miss, crumbled my heart.
“Miss Montana stared into the fire. “Sometimes I just want to go in a room and break things and scream. Like, it’s so much pressure all the time and if you get upset or angry, people say, ‘Are you on the rag or something?’ And it’s like I want to say, ‘No. I’m just pissed off right now. Can’t I just be pissed off? How come that’s not okay for me?’ Like my dad will say, ‘I can’t talk to you when you’re hysterical.’ And I’m totally not being hysterical! I’m just mad. And he’s the one losing it. But then I feel embarrassed anyway. So I slap on that smile and pretend everything’s okay even though it’s not. Anyway.” Miss Montana pasted on an embarrassed half smile. “Sorry for the rant.”
“Why do you have to be sorry?” Nicole asked.
“Well … I don’t know.”
“Why do girls always feel like they have to apologize for giving an opinion or taking up space in the world? Have you ever noticed that?” Nicole asked. “You go on websites and some girl leaves a post and if it’s longer than three sentences or she’s expressing her thoughts about some topic, she usually ends with, ‘Sorry for the rant’ or ‘That may be dumb, but that’s what I think.’”
This book educated me a lot without ever feeling preachy, which I really admire.
And while respectively handling serious subjects, Beauty Queens also has a wicked sense of humor that was right up my alley.
“I’ll do it,” Miss Arkansas volunteered.
“No. This is about Miss New Hampshire. We are the Miss Teen Dream team. We are only as strong as our weakest link. There is no I in “team.”
“There’s no U in asshole, either, and yet …” Adina muttered.”
Adina wasn’t my absolute favorite because her humor could be a little overstepping. And like Petra said, just because you’re funny doesn’t mean you get to be cruel. But sometimes Adina uttered some of the funniest things that had me laughing out loud.
Weeks go by, when suddenly the girls rescue (?) the cast of Captains Bodacious IV that arrive during a storm, which I thought would make the story lose its steam a little. But never doubt Libba Bray, because she managed to keep me entertained till the end.
“Say, could one of you lovelies get me something to quench my thirst?”
Four girls turned to go and Adina said, “You seem able-bodied to me.”
Captain Sinjin put a hand to his chest. “We’ve been through a shipwreck, luv. We’re exhausted and need to lie about.”
“Oh, I know how you feel,” Tiara said. “When our plane crashed here, and we had to bury the dead and deal with really bad wounds and Miss New Mexico got that tray stuck in her head —”
“Hi!” Miss New Mexico waved.
“— and the chaperones were all charred in the wreckage and it was really gross and scary and there was nothing to eat and no shelter and we had to build all that stuff and deal with giant snakes and bug bites and we barely survived a giant wave and mudslides and hallucinogenic plants and stuff, we were so, so tired.”
But I did low-key despise the cast of pirates (at first). We were having so much fun getting to know each girl and hearing their stories, and then these reality TV boys arrive…
I kept thinking, “girls please stay strong and don’t fall for those idiots… I’m begging you.”
But I found it laughable when Adina was all:
“Good God! All you had to do was introduce the scent of testosterone and perfectly capable, together girls were reduced to giggling, lash-batting, hair-playing idiots. She hated it when girls did this. When they got all goo-goo-eyed over Y chromosome–carrying creatures instead of taking care of themselves. It’s what her mother had done her whole life, cater to some man instead of looking after herself. Or Adina.”
Until a boy bumps into her, in which case she turned all:
“Let me help you with that.”
“I don’t need your help,” Adina called, but Duff was already wading into the water. This was the problem with men. They just assumed. They just took action. It was infuriating. And reductive. And slightly thrilling.
The wet clung to Duff’s pants as he strode into the surf, and she could see the curve of his ass. Man, he was fine.”
Get your head in the game—I swear, I thought they were trouble!
But okay, I did grow to like Sinjin (mostly because of Petra). And yeah, I also liked his silly humor and the way he didn’t take himself too seriously.
“Petra looked up to the moon as if appealing to its grace. She liked this one and wanted more, but she was afraid there was no hope of that.
“Sorry, I just … So you used to be a guy. J. T. Woodland. Of Boyz Will B Boyz.”
“It’s okay. I can tell you’re freaked out.”
Petra started to get up. Sinjin took her wrist gently. “Well, yeah. But mostly because you used to be in Boyz Will B Boyz. That’s unbelievable! I mean, you played Top of the Pops!”
Petra allowed a small smile. He had surprised her. That didn’t happen often. She sat down again. “Should I tell you the story?”
“How much should I tell you?”
I really, really liked them.
“Carefully, he tucked a strand of hair behind Petra’s ear and let his hand rest for a moment against the soft, wide plain of her cheekbone. “I think you’re beautiful. And brave. And really fucking cool. And you can make Charles Dickens puns.”
Petra leaned the weight of her face into Sinjin’s palm. “You know who and what I am. So, if this is just the old curiosity shop, you can stop right now.”
Sinjin looked her in the eyes. There was not a trace of smirk in his expression. “‘I hope that real love and truth are stronger in the end than any evil or misfortune in the world.’”
“David Copperfield,” Petra whispered, positioning her lips close to his.
“Why are you bringing magicians into it?” Sinjin said and kissed her tenderly. It was a kiss small in its ministrations but epic in its feeling.”
…Libba Bray sure knows how to shut me up. I mean, how could I forget that she’s a master at writing swoon worthy romances????
Like, damn. That scene with Adina and Duff in the cabin made me sweat. But then…when his true assholish behaviour was revealed, I was appalled.
“She tapped Duff on the arm. He tipped his head back to look up at her. “Hello, Mary Lou.”
“Could you stand up, please?”
Duff gave the boys an I-wonder-what-this-is-about look. “Sure thing.” He stood and faced Mary Lou. “What’s up?”
“This.” Mary Lou’s fist connected with Duff’s face in an audible crunch. He tottered like a drunk. And if there had been a clock on the island, it would have ticked off exactly three seconds before he lost consciousness and went down hard in the sand.
“Ow!” Mary Lou shook out her hand. Then she took her place at the fire and drank the rest of Duff’s coconut milk, drinking till she was sated.”
And thank you, Mary Lou, for handling the situation like a pro. I won’t forget Duff’s awfulness anytime soon.
The hurt was a pain in the center of my chest. And his ‘apology’ was so half-hearted, it only made things worse for me.
But the girls didn’t let those bumps along the road falter the course of their actions.
“We could take the world by storm, you know? It’ll be like we proved ourselves, like all those heroes’ journey stories about boys, only we’re girls.”
At its core this book was a very character driven one, which was my favorite thing. We had an incredible wide cast of characters that I connected with one way or another.
I found myself in Petra’s determination, in Shanti’s soundness, in Nicole’s sensibleness, in Taylor’s unwavering commitment, and I could go on and on —but bottom line, these girls made me feel at home.
I think it’s safe to say that Libba Bray has got my heart with all these remarkably fleshed-out characters. I’m still moony-eyed after everything.
To put it simply, Beauty Queens – at heart – is a sad sort of beautiful. Like all the best books.
“There was something about the island that made the girls forget who they had been. All those rules and shalt nots. They were no longer waiting for some arbitrary grade. They were no longer performing. Waiting. Hoping.
They were becoming.
Also, I have to mention this next tiny detail because it warmed my heart:
(A high school hallway. A girl, MARCIA, slams her locker door in frustration. She looks haggard. NATALIE and RACHEL stand off to one side, watching and shaking their heads.)”
What are the chances that both my name and my sister’s name (Rachel) would be on the same page?
My reaction to it totally reminded me of this vine:
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