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This may be my favorite Libba Bray book yet! I’ve had mixed reactions to her earlier titles. I enjoyed A Great and Terrible Beauty, but had some issues with the fantasy aspect of the story (and that continued through the rest of the series, culminating in my 1 star review of The Sweet Far Thing). Then I thought that Going Bovine had some great things going for it, but didn’t quite work. Same thing for Beauty Queens, which was hilarious and biting but otherwise flawed. Here we go, though – here’s a happy medium between her tendency to go over the top and throw it ALL in, and her fantastic sense of characters and dialogue and setting.
Okay, maybe she goes a little over the top – there are an awful lot of characters, and there’s an awful lot of setting things up for the rest of the series. The set up is all marvelous, but the loose ends may bug some readers more than others (I was particularly interested in what would become of Theta and Memphis, who factor into the resolution but don’t play as large a part as I expected based on all the set up). Bray also goes a little over the top with Evie’s slang, but the saving grace here is that she’s the only character who speaks in slang, and the story is spread out over so many characters.
The book has got humor, suspense, a fantastically realized setting, and a decent pace despite the length. There’s a little romance, a bit of action, some genuinely creepy scenes – basically a little bit of everything.
I was curious to see how creepy and suspenseful the story felt on audio – perhaps a bit less than it would have on the page, reading in a dim room at bedtime. The narration is well done – the women’s voices slightly better than the men’s, but it’s fun to hear all the slang and accents and so on. This is one I’ll easily recommend to high schoolers.
Beauty Queens is equally awesome and awful. Awesome: the premise of a plane full of beauty pageant contestants crashing on a deserted (or is it?) island, and a narrative structure full of commercial breaks, footnotes explaining fictional pop-culture references, and Libba Bray’s wicked sense of humor.
Not as awesome is the (thin and ridiculous) plot that sags under the weight of too much time spent on flat characters and shoved-in-your-face issues. While flat characters and a ridiculous plot might be exactly what the book calls for, they can’t sustain the bloat of the book. What is laughing-so-hard-you-cry funny can quickly turn to disinterest and annoyance when there’s just too much of everything.
Libba Bray narrates the book herself, which is mostly fantastic (not so much her accents, which she does enthusiastically but terribly). The humor comes across perfect in her voice, and the sound effects that accompany the extras (footnotes, commercials, etc.) help distinguish them, along with her incredible ranges of inflections. A small detail that I particularly loved were the introductions to each disc (I’m not sure what form these take, if any, in the print version) – a high, ditzy voice saying things like “Beauty Queens, disc 5. Oh my gosh, now I’ve used all the fingers on one hand!” or “Beauty Queens, disc 12. I got my period when I was 12…I think.”
In short, if one can be short when talking about a book like Beauty Queens, you might think this is the best book ever. Or you might throw it down in disgust. Or you might be constantly tempted to ditch it, like me, until you suddenly realize that your hatred has turned to respect (mostly). The interview section with the author at the end helped finish things on a sweet note.
I didn’t give this one a star rating because it would either be 1 or 4 stars and anything in between felt wishy-washy.
Source: my public library
Oh, Going Bovine. I wanted to like you. A few years back I was at an author signing and heard Libba Bray describe the plot of her new book and my first thought was “thumbs down!” So I can say that it is much, much better than it first sounded to me. Parts are delightfully wacky (while other parts are just…wacky) and it’s funny, and I have a deep affection for anything that’s an homage to Don Quixote (I did once dress up as Don Quixote for a high school party – but let’s not talk about that).
Here’s the thing – after a certain point, I just wanted to know how it would end. And the ending was more or less what I expected – without giving anything away – and it had some nice moments, but it never really got to me. That said, would I recommend it? Sure – to someone looking for something off-beat and funny and irreverent. Maybe someone else will get that emotional punch that I was waiting for.