Why do so many people have trouble with satire? I guess it’s because you have to approach it on two levels at once: the literal and the figurative. That can be difficult. So don’t read Libba Bray’s novel, Beauty Queens, if you have trouble with satire. And don’t read it if you think that YA novels are beneath you.
OK, with that out of the way, what is this book about? The first quarter of it or so seems shallow, superficial, and stereotyped — so much so that I almost gave up on it. The narrator of the audiobook version, which is the one I “read,” is the author herself, and her voice comes through with authenticity. That helped. There were a few odd touches that accentuated the satire, such as sound effects at the beginning and end of each footnote. (Footnotes? In a novel? Yes, there were at least four dozen of them.) And because it was satire, I had a suspicion that the superficial stereotypes weren’t going to last, even though the book seemed pretty silly at first.
Indeed the stereotypes didn’t last. In the second quarter there was more character development, and some depths began to be revealed. Oh — at this point you probably want to know something about the plot. Simply put, it’s about a group of teenage beauty queens (semifinalists in the Miss Teen Dream pageant) whose plane crashes on a remote jungle island in the Caribbean. Sounds like a regendered Lord of the Flies, doesn’t it? Well, maybe….
Anyhow, the third quarter reveals greater depth, as the message switches toward self-empowerment, and of course the fourth quarter resolves everything, along with the requisite bits of political satire along the way. If you’re offended by satirical treatments of large corporations, gender politics, religion, sexism, racism, pop culture, or (of course) beauty pageants, don’t read this book. Otherwise it’s funny and worth reading.
Fortunately I didn’t read the author’s long blog post about depression until after I had finished the novel. It’s well worth reading if you know anyone who suffers from clinical depression (and surely you do); I suspect it’s even more worth reading if you yourself are depressed (as the author is). As far as I can tell, there’s absolutely nothing in Beauty Queens to suggest that its author is depressed, but maybe I was just being oblivious.