Welcome to the fourth discussion of the Relaxed & Groovy Book Club!
Returning to this right now is just what my creative spirit needs. Let’s talk books! And what better book than this one, the uplifting tale of beauty queens surviving on a deserted island, left to fend for themselves and discover what they’re really made of.
Current Relaxed & Groovy Book Club selection:
BEAUTY QUEENS by Libba Bray
Published by: Scholastic Press
Release Date: May 24, 2011
Genres: YA, Contemporary, LGBT
Teen beauty queens. A desert island. Mysteries and dangers. No access to e-mail. And the spirit of fierce, feral competition that lives underground in girls, a savage brutality that can only be revealed by a journey into the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Oh, the horror, the horror! Only funnier. With evening gowns. And a body count. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Libba Bray here.
Follow Libba on Twitter here.
Follow Libba on Tumblr here.
Follow Libba on Facebook here.
I love the voice of this book! Libba Bray is hilarious and so talented at taking the absurd and making it funny while at the same time forcing us to look at an issue closer, with discernment.
Let’s peek at the opening and first chapter:
(It starts with a disclaimer, er, a word from your sponsor):
This book begins with a plane crash. We do not want you to worry about this. According to the U.S. Department of Unnecessary Statistics, your chances of dying in a plane crash are one in half a million. Whereas your chances of losing your bathing suit bottoms to a strong tide are two to one. So, all in all, it’s safer to fly than to go to the beach. As we said, this book begins with a plane crash. But there are survivors. You see? Already it’s a happy tale. They are all beauty queen contestants. You do not need to know their names here. But you will get to know them. They are all such nice girls. Yes, they are nice, happy, shining, patriotic girls who happen to have interests in baton twirling, sign language, AIDS prevention in the animal population, the ancient preparation of popadam, feminine firearms, interpretive dance, and sequins. Such a happy story. And shiny, too.
This story is brought to you by The Corporation: Because Your Life Can Always Be Better™. We at The Corporation would like you to enjoy this story, but please be vigilant while reading. If you should happen to notice anything suspicious in the coming pages, do alert the proper authorities. Remember, it could be anything at all – a subversive phrase, an improper thought or feeling let out of its genie bottle of repression, an idea that challenges the status quo, the suggestion that life may not be what it appears to be and that all you’ve taken for granted (malls, shopping, the relentless pursuit of an elusive happiness, prescription drug ads, those annoying perfume samples in magazines that make your eyes water, the way anchorman and women shift easily from the jovial laughter of a story about a dog that hula-hoops to a grave report on a bus crash that has left five teenagers dead) may be no more consequential than the tattered hem of a dream, leaving you with a bottomless, free-fall feeling.
This is the sort of thing we are warning you about.
But let’s not worry, shall we? There’s nothing to worry about. Though there is the threat of a war, it happens in the background, in snippets on the nightly news between ads for sinus medicines. It’s none of our concern. This is a happy story…
“Are you all right?”
The voice was tinny in Adina’s ears. Her head ached, and she was wet. She remembered the plane pitching and falling, the smoke and screams, the panic, and then nothing.
“Am I dead?” she asked the face looming over hers. The face had apple cheeks and was framed by a halo of glossy black curls.
“Are you dead?” Adina asked warily.
The face above her shook from side to side, and then burst into tears. Adina relaxed, reasoning that she had to be alive, unless the afterlife was a lot more bipolar than she’d been led to believe. She pulled herself to a sitting position and waited for the wooziness to subside. A gash on her knee was caked in dried blood. Another on her arm still seeped. Her dress was ripped and slightly scorched and she wore only one shoe. It was one half of her best pair, and in her state of shock, finding the other became important. “Can you help me find my shoe?”
“Sure. I saw some in the water. I hope they’re not leather,” the other girl said in an accent flat as a just-plowed field. She had huge, blue, anime-worthy eyes. “I’m Miss Nebraska, Mary Lou Novak.”
“Adina Greenburg. Miss New Hampshire.” Adina cupped her hands over her eyes, looking out toward the sea. “I don’t see it.”
“That’s a shame. It’s a real nice shoe.”
“Roland Me’sognie,” Adina said, and she honestly couldn’t figure out why. She didn’t care about the stupid brand. That was her mother’s influence. Shock. It had to be the shock.
“If I can find my suitcase, I’ve got an extra pair of sneakers in there. I’m a size eight.”
“You’re welcome. I like to be helpful. It’s sort of a Nebraska thing. My pageant sponsor says I’ve got a real good chance at Miss Congeniality this year.”
“Miss Congeniality represents the true heart of the pageant,” Adina found herself repeating from the Miss Teen Dream manual. She vaguely remembered that she used to make a gagging motion at that, but she was too dazed for snarkiness just now. Dazed because, yes, when she’d been looking for her shoe, she’d seen dead bodies in the water. Lifeless bodies.
This may appear to be your average story about a bunch of beauty queens whose plane crashes leaving the survivors stranded on a deserted island with no plug-ins in sight, but as with all of Bray’s books, there is so much more depth and discovery underneath it all. A commentary on girl culture at its very core and a must-read for every young woman (and every young man! Insight is always wise to pursue. Besides, the male perspective is explored).
The book is told from several points of view, each of the beauty queens gets to tell their tale, along with some interspersed commentary from The Corporation. When a new POV is introduced, we first get to review the character’s Miss Teen Dream Fun Facts Page. It’s fascinating to watch how each young woman’s view of herself changes – or the way she thought she should present herself to the world changes – as the experience on the island changes each of them.
Take this example:
Name: Adina Greenburg
State: New Hampshire
Height: I resent this question
Weight: I really resent this question.
Hair: Brown. Obviously.
Eyes: Also brown. Also obviously.
Best Feature: My intellect
Fun Facts About Me:
*I hate high heels. Walking in high heels for eight hours a day should be forbidden by the Geneva Convention.
*I am applying to Brown, Yale, Harvard, and Columbia.
*I was voted Most Likely to Figure Out Who Really Killed JFK.
* My mom is married to Alan, aka, Stepfather #5. He is a complete tool. No, you have no idea.
* My favorite Corporation TV show is the news. If you can call it that.
*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.
*The thing that scares me most is falling in love with some jerkwad and ending up without an identity at all, just like my mom.
*I intend to bring this pageant down.
*You will never see this.
Adina only entered the contest to bring it down, so when she finds herself stranded on the island with her fellow contestants, she’s living in a nightmare scenario. She is such a hardcore, girl-power feminist in the beginning, yet as she gets to know the other girls beyond their platforms, she comes to embrace her softer side, and realizes that this doesn’t make you weak.
What’s also fascinating is watching how the young women use their pageant talents to help them survive. Of course, in the beginning some of them still have their sights set on winning the contest…
“For as long as we’re here, we need to survive. You know, build some shelter, find reliable food and drinking water. We need to organize.”
Taylor’s hand shot up, “Taylor Rene Hawkins of the great state of Texas! Permission to speak!”
“What fresh hell is this?” Adina muttered. “Granted.”
Taylor took back the baton. “Miss New Hampshire is right.”
“You’re agreeing with me?” Adina blurted out. “What are the other signs of the apocalypse?”
“You’re out of order, Miss New Hampshire. I’ll issue a warning. Next time it’s a penalty.” Taylor stood and paced with the baton cradled in her arms like a winner’s bouquet. “You know what I’m thinkin’, Miss Teen Dreamers?”
“What?” Mary Lou asked.
“That was rhetorical, Miss Nebraska. I’m thinkin’ that when we do finally get rescued, we want them to find us at our best. And what could be better and more in line with the Miss Teen Dream mission statement than having them find that we have tamed and beautified this island? It’s like extra credit. And you know how the judges love extra credit.”
The island soon shows itself to be hostile and not so easily tamed. The young women who’ve broken up into two groups – the Lost Girls and the Sparkle Ponies (no, YOU’RE seeing parallels to LORD OF THE FLIES) – fight for survival harder than ever, even holding contests for best personal arsenal design.
After a long day of working hard on their creative survival skills, the young women open up around the campfire.
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 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.'”
“I say sorry all the time. The other day, this lady bumped into me with her grocery cart, and I said I was sorry,” Mary Lou said, shaking her head.
Shanti raised her hand. “I move we officially ban the word sorry from our vocabularies while we’re here.”
“I second that, if that’s okay,” Petra said, grinning. “If not, sorry.”
“I third it. Sorry.”
“I just scratched my nose. Sorry.”
“I just scratched my ass. Sorry.“
“I’m getting up to stretch my legs. Sorry.“
“Sometimes I just want to burn down all the rules and start over,” Mary Lou said. Everyone waited for the punch line of “sorry,” but it never came.
The young women continue thrive while learning how to survive. They discover they are stronger than they thought.
The girls had lost track of how long they had been on the island. During the daylight hours, they dove into the surf with abandon, emerging tanned and sure-footed, as if they were selkies who had let their timidity float out on the tide like a false skin. Only Taylor remained vigilant in her pageant work, getting up every morning, rain or shine, to go through the paces of her routine, from first entrance to talent to final interview.
“When we get rescued, I guess I’m the only one who’ll be in fighting form,” she’d say while circle-turning and practicing a stiff wave.
“I’ve been thinking about the boys who crashed on the island,” Mary Lou said to Adina one afternoon as they rested on their elbows taking bites from the same papaya.
“Lord of the Flies. What about it?”
“You know how you said it wasn’t a true measure of humanity because there were no girls and you wondered how it would be different if there had been girls?”
Mary Lou wiped fruit juice from her mouth with the back of her hand. “Maybe girls need an island to find themselves. Maybe they need a place where no one’s watching them so they can be who they really are.”
Adina gazed out at the expanse of unknowable ocean. “Maybe.”
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.
The girls are thrown a curveball when a boatful of reality TV teenaged pirates show up and test their newfound girl power. If you thought it was interesting before the guys showed up, whew! You ain’t seen nothing!
Such an entertaining way to delve into the complex issue of gender roles and society influences. This book really makes you think. And I love a book that makes me think. I looooove Libba Bray. Once you read any of her books, I’m sure you will, too.
Relaxed & Groovy Book Club selection:
I WILL SAVE YOU by Matt de la Peña
Published by: Delacorte Press
Release Date: October 12, 2010
Genres: YA, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
Kidd is running from his past and his future. No mom, no dad, and there’s nothing for him at the group home but therapy. He doesn’t belong at the beach where he works either, unless he finds a reason to stay.
Olivia is blond hair, blue eyes, rich dad. The prettiest girl in Cardiff. She’s hiding something from Kidd—but could they ever be together anyway?
Devon is mean, mysterious, and driven by a death wish. A best friend and worst enemy. He followed Kidd all the way to the beach and he’s not leaving until he teaches him a few lessons about life. And Olivia. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Matt de la Peña here.
Follow Matt on Twitter here.
Follow Matt on Facebook here.
This book wrecked me and, yet I’m coming back for seconds. If you’ve never read a book from this author, he’s one to get to know. Not only is he a fantastic guy in person, he does fantastic things for his readers. He’s not only heavily involved in the We Need Diverse Books project, his first picture book LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET won the 2016 Newbery Medal. Trust me, this is one author to follow.
As the end of the year will be pretty busy for me, I suggest this one as reading on your own. We’ll reconvene this most relaxed and groovy of book clubs next year with a new theme and fantastic new books. (Tie-dyed tees and funky shoes optional, as always!)