Pull Yourselves Up By Your Bra Straps; Lord of the Flies meets Drop Dead Gorgeous
Posted by: MaryKate Perry
Perhaps you have heard of the Mother Daughter Book Club series, and were inspired to start an MD group of your own. Firstly: splendid! Secondly: I suggest Beauty Queens by Libba Bray (after you read Anne of Green Gables, Pride and Prejudice and Little Women, of course). Tuck into this desert island tale of adventure, intrigue and self-discovery, but exercise caution: this is not an entirely wholesome book (witness the cover) and I don’t want to sell it as such. It is for older teens so don’t hand it to your ninth grader and blame me later. I won’t say it is free of violence (though none too graphic) or sex (again, nothing graphic), but it is quite edgy. It is a dark and satirical critique of consumerism that I, as a young teen, simply would not have understood. This novel is a send-up of the pageant world with its obvious image-obsession and materialism. A plane-load of Miss Teen Dream Pageant hopefuls crash on a tropical island, their straightening irons are swept out to sea and catty adventures ensue. For Lost fans, I know the enduring question is: how could so many good-looking people get marooned on the same island? This book handily dispenses with that conundrum by having the plane stuffed to the gills with people pre-selected for abnormal prettiness!
Okay, when I heard about the plot I was hooked, except that poking fun at pageants is like shooting fish in a barrel. But Bray takes on more than the bleached-toothed world of beauty contests. She is also out to skewer the manipulative greed of large corporations and the resulting global monoculture of products tied into movies, boy bands and reality television. Seems like a lot for a beach read, but Bray pulls it off humorously, managing to explore friendships and sexual identity in the bargain. These girls have spray-on-tans and cloroxed smiles slapped on like pasties over their pain and killer ambition. In the absence of a pageant, can they harness their collective will to exfoliate into a drive to survive? And who knows? Maybe the island isn’t deserted after all and they might just meet some cute guys along the way; woman cannot live by foraged jungle flora alone. Once you have built your own primitive desalination unit, surely you’ve earned the right to snog with whoever washes ashore.
If you are seeking gentler reading for your daughter or yourself, The Mother Daughter Book Club series by Heather Vogel Frederick includes: The Mother Daughter Book Club, Much Ado about Anne, Dear Pen Pal, Pies and Prejudice, Home for the Holidays and Wish You Were Eyre (wish I had invented that title). The series begins when the characters are in sixth grade and each book covers one year.
If you want to read another satirical view of consumer culture, consider a favorite of my sci-fi/fantasy husband, (he prefers the simpler title “Fantasy Husband”) Jennifer Government. Max Barry’s novel – for mature readers only – features characters with the last names of the corporations they work for.