Book Review: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

The fifty contestants in the Miss Teen Dream pageant thought this was going to be a fun trip to the beach, where they could parade in their state-appropriate costumes and compete in front of the cameras. But sadly, their airplane had another idea crashing on a desert island and leaving the survivors stranded with little food, little water, and practically no eyeliner.

What’s a beauty queen to do? Continue to practice for the talent portion of the program–or wrestle snakes to the ground? Get a perfect tan–or learn to run wild? And what should happen when the sexy pirates show up?

Welcome to the heart of non-exfoliated darkness.

I read this book back when it first came out and I still really love it. However, only some things still hold up for me.

Let’s start with the good things I love about it. I know that for a lot of people, Bray’s over-the-top satire and stereotypes can be a little grating, but I really love it. It’s a super scathing look at our society in general, but especially our society’s ideas about femininity and girlhood. I loved it when I was 20, and I love it now.

I think I can credit this book with my first step to calling myself a feminist and when I first started to realize that not being like other girls was total BS. And I related to Adina so much when I read this years ago, and I found myself yelling at her the way that I yell at past me. I love her journey with unlearning internalized misogyny (and I totally relate too much to hating her mom for jumping to relationship to relationship (but that’s another story)).

What I love most about this, is that everyone learns something about themselves AND others. We all have misconceptions about ourselves and each other, but as women (especially young women) we’re taught to see each other as competition and this book hyper focuses on that. Overall, I think the heavy-handedness of the book works really well and it’s just overly ridiculous and funny and brilliant.

But there are two things that I don’t really like about it, Petra’s forced outing and the back and forth of Jennifer and Sosie’s relationship. Luckily, in these circumstances of fiction, nothing goes wrong too wrong with outing Petra. But in the real world, being forcibly outed as a trans person can be incredibly traumatic AND dangerous. In this situation of a deserted island there are no consequences for the girls that out Petra and they all learn something valuable from knowing a trans person, which is really just gross and that shouldn’t be what we’re teaching young girls.

Jennifer and Sosie’s friendship turned relationship turned friendship is really bothersome to me because, for one, Sosie doesn’t actually say that she’s bisexual, and two, it paints the stereotype that bisexual people don’t know what they want. Jennifer is a lesbian; she knows she likes girls and she went for the girl. Sosie, on the other hand, doesn’t know for sure what her sexuality is and that’s fine! It’s okay to be figuring out your sexuality, but with making Sosie the one that goes back and forth about her feelings for Jennifer, it perpetuates the stereotype the bisexual people are just confused and don’t know what they want and they’ll just leave you and that’s not okay.

So as much as I love Libba Bray, and as much as I do love this book, I can’t give it more than 3 bards.

Book Review: Drag Teen by Jeffery Self

Seventeen-year-old JT Barnett lives a humdrum existence in Clearwater, FL, working in the family gas station, drifting through school, and dreaming of fabulous days to come. His one attempt at drag led to public humiliation in a school talent show, so he is reluctant when Seth, his wildly attractive, overachieving boyfriend, encourages him to enter the Miss Drag Teen pageant in New York City.

The prize of a four-year college scholarship ultimately convinces JT, and after lying to their parents, he, his best friend Heather, and Seth embark on a spring break road trip that leads to fights, honest reckonings, and encounters with a cast of remarkable personalities. With the exception of spiteful Tash, the diverse group of pageant contestants offer JT acceptance and a tantalizing glimpse into a brighter world.

I am a massive fan of drag queens and drag in general, in the past year alone I’ve been to three drag shows, one drag brunch, and have binge watched RuPaul’s Drag Race countless times.
So when I got wind of this book, and Jeffery Self, being at the Texas Teen Book Festival, I knew I would absolutely love the story.  I was not disappointed at all.  The narrative is mostly focused on JT’s struggle with accepting himself as who he is, back rolls and all (eyes Alyssa Edwards), and coming to realize that if you start to live in the moment then things can really start to happen for you.

Yes, this is a very positive LGBTQ book, and I love that.  But I also love that other than a few mentions of name-calling, that this was a personal journey of self love and discovery than it was someone trying to grapple with their sexuality—not that it’s a bad thing to have that narrative—I just was pleased to be reading one that was more focused on the individual.  In addition, as someone who has struggled with anxiety and crippling self esteem issues, I related so much to JT and his journey.

JT is in a happy relationship with his boyfriend of almost 4 years, and has been out and proud for a while.  It’s really just his self doubt that holds him back, well, that an the lack of money.

Shenanigans happen and JT finally gets to leave his bubble of Clearwater, FL and goes to the Big Apple to compete in a teen drag pageant. I don’t know about you, but I have helped a friend dress in drag for an amateur drag show and it was so much fun, so it brought back some happy memories.

Clearly there are some characters that were blatantly based off of some of the queens from RuPaul’s drag race, and I totally loved it.  I’m talking about the Pip/Adore Delano hybrid (PARTY), and the bitchy Tash that reminds me of Coco Montrese.

I loved this book.  The writing is punchy, upbeat, and the pacing is excellent.  Do yourself a favor and get into Drag Teen.  You won’t regret it!

5 Bards.

fivebards

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