I am a note taker. The fact that I took absolutely no notes during Libba Bray’s recent speech at SCBWI’s 40th Anniversary Conference in LA has nothing to do with a lack of content and everything to do with the fact that I was laughing hysterically. When I started reading her most recent young adult release, Beauty Queens, I knew I could expect more laughs. How could you not when the author started with the premise, “A plane full of beauty queens crashes on a deserted island.” What Ms. Bray has ended up with (in addition to marvelous humor and witty satire) is a smart and biting commentary on feminism, beauty, motherhood, and commercialization in our modern world.
Now before you groan and go get a cheese sandwich let me say that what is masterful about this book is how none of this is shoved down your throat. There are wonderful, imaginative, quirky characters here. Through tight and realistic dialogue and a fresh structure, Ms. Bray takes readers behind the stereotypes, behind the masks of her main characters allowing us to glimpse their heart and soul, their fears and vulnerabilities.
There is no “message” here, but there is theme. Theme comes after the book is written. Theme is the questions that the text forces each reader to ask but leaves each reader to answer. “Can girls (and boys) be themselves in our current culture?” “Has corporate greed corrupted the media?” “What is beauty?” “Has the beauty industry run amok?” “What are we doing to empower girls and boys in our current commercial culture?” “How do our parents shape us? Can we be us- apart from them?” “How does our sexual schizophrenia (American puritanical/commercialized) effect our sexuality and health?” “What is the responsibility of our elected officials in all of this?”
If you are teaching Lord of the Flies this year, I highly recommend that you included Beauty Queens, as a comp lit piece. The discussion opportunities would be endless. And while you’re at it, add in Golden Kite Winner Tanya Lee Stone’s The Good, The Bad and The Barbie. By the way, I was so engrossed in Beauty Queens that again I failed to take notes. However I did underline a favorite quote on page 177:
“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.”
Ah, yes, Libba. An island– or a room of one’s own.