Saturday, September 3, 2011

Beauty Queens (Audio)

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray (NY: Scholastic Audiobooks, 2011). Read by Libba Bray.

When their plane crashes on a seemingly deserted tropical island, the surviving Miss Teen Dream beauty pageant contestants consolidate their talents to stay alive, continue their pageant preparations, and bravely wait for what they assume will be a speedy rescue. But no one comes. And maybe they're not alone on the island. That volcano in the distance? It's actually the evil Corporation's clandestine headquarters for plotting nefarious activities, like complete world domination and arms dealing with the brutal dictator MoMo B ChaCha of the Republic of ChaCha (whose advisor is a stuffed lemur named General Goodtimes). Miss Texas channels the pageant's chief sponsor, Ladybird Hope and organizes the girls into teams (Lost Girls and Sparkle Ponies) to gather useful items that wash ashore (curling irons!), build huts, forage for food, and practice their dance routines. Miss New Hampshire, an undercover journalist who wants to expose the seamy underside of the pageant world, attempts to educate the other Teen Dreamers about the evils of objectification. Things get really crazy when the cast members of the pirate reality show Captains Bodacious crash their ship nearby and the girls and guys start interacting.

As many other reviewers have noted, Beauty Queens hybridizes such disparate sources as Lost, Lord of the Flies, Survivor, Heart of Darkness, Gilligan's Island, etc., but it's still highly original and hysterically funny. Libba Bray's narration in the audio version is superb. Her voice for Ladybird Hope sounds a lot like Tina Fey's impersonation of Sarah Palin, and she nails all the different accents and inflections of contestants' home states. Commercial breaks and footnotes lampoon America's materialist, consumerist culture. The girls themselves start out as types, but quickly become engaging individuals, and they all have secrets that are gradually revealed. Liberal injections of action--snake attack! flash floods!--keep the plot tripping speedily along. Some of the situations may seem over the top (Ladybird's collaboration with the ridiculous dictator of ChaCha, for instance), but overall the effect is a wildly hilarious satire. Highly recommended (in the audio format!) for ages 13 & up. Sexual situations, alcohol, hallucinogenic berries.

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