At the beginning of Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens, fifty American teenage girls are being flown to Paradise Cove, located somewhere in the tropics, to take part in the “Miss Teen Dream” pageant. Due to sudden engine trouble, the plane crashes and most of the contestants and flight crew die, leaving a handful of contestants who have to learn how to survive on a seemingly uninhabited island until they are rescued.
(Why a U.S. teen pageant would be held in such a remote tropical location instead of, say, California or Florida, isn’t explained, but apparently Bray needed a locale where cell phone coverage would be nonexistent.)
Bray quickly sets a satirical tone for her story, both establishing the silliness that can happen in beauty pageants, and displaying a blatant hostility toward Christianity. But instead of developing complex characters, Bray’s characters are all one-dimensional and paper-thin. In fact, she shamelessly uses her characters as props for the promotion of sexual wildness—not to mention a plug for her political party (I’ll give you one guess) and some sort of paganism.
Bray’s storyline is tiresomely predictable: Sexuality is strictly a social construct, corporations are bad for the earth, and men are generally useless, unless they are sensitive, earth-conscious pagans. In her very first chapter, Bray portrays God as unhelpful and Christians as mean or idiotic—sometimes both. The enlightened teens are from blues states, and the religious morons from red states.
Take the obnoxious and rigid “Miss Texas,” Taylor Hawkins. Standing amidst dead bodies following the crash, Taylor informs everyone that her “personal copilot [is] Jesus Christ.” Despite the urgency of surviving major trauma and of learning how to survive, Taylor harangues the Teen Dreamers into continuing their daily pageantry skills drill.
Bray’s “Christian” characters lack any real commitment to or knowledge of their faith. Though she spouts fluffy platitudes about Christ, Taylor’s real god is Ladybird Hope, a former pageant winner who now heads The Corporation, which has a successful line of beauty products and sponsors “Miss Teen Dream.” In commercials for The Corporation, Ladybird Hope, also talks about Jesus, but her real interest is in obtaining money and power. As it turns out, The Corporation sponsors more than beautiful girls and lotions and potions.
Despite the vastness of the ocean, the contestants’ plane miraculously crashes on the island on which The Corporation has been conducting extensive product testing. Unscrupulous men, referred to as “black shirts,” have destroyed the environment with their testing, causing the island’s pagan inhabitants to vacate the island, leaving behind a few totem poles and dead or dying animals.
One of the potions is useful for things other than beauty, so instead of rescuing damsels in distress and risking exposing their scheme, the “black shirts” leave them to die horrible deaths, informing authorities that there were no survivors. Apparently the parents, airlines, and FAA aren’t interested in the wreckage or in recovering bodies, because no one comes to investigate. Of course, part of this could be explained by the fact all of the contestants come from lousy families.
Depending on what state they live in, the beauties are mostly either sexually repressed heterosexuals, lesbians, bisexual, or transgender. When “Miss Mississippi” (Tiara) stumbles upon “Miss Rhode Island” (Petra), who is bathing, Tiara exclaims that Petra has a “wang-dang-doodle.” It seems Petra is preparing for a sex-change operation.
Tiara’s “Christian” mother had warned her about the un-naturalness of people who have sex changes. Regarding his “wang-dang-doodle,” Petra retorts, “Is that all that makes a guy a guy?” Petra insists that sex is merely a technicality. In a heated discussion about God and gender, Petra lashes out at Tiara, “Maybe you should ask God and nature why they put a girl inside a boy’s body.”
Instead of stressing the importance of self-control (a necessary virtue for everyone to learn), and showing that some actions can have lifelong consequences, Bray encourages teens toward promiscuity and away from chastity. The savvy character, “Miss New Hampshire” (Adina), smugly proclaims that unlike abstinence programs, Planned Parenthood teaches girls anatomy, physiology, safe sex, and proper condom use.
To show the joys of these safe-sex practices, Bray needs a few extraneous studmuffins for the heterosexual members of Miss Teen Dream to use. Thus, a group of good-looking “reality television pirates” is shipwrecked in the waters off their island. The girls help rescue them and work to repair their ship, but before they all sail home, the “black shirts” attack. Instead of banding together to fight back, these bodacious but yellow-bellied fellows climb aboard their ship and sail off, once again leaving the girls alone and vulnerable. It takes a mysterious pagan force to help save them.
Bray’s book is a poorly written piece of propaganda. It manipulates teens into believing that Christians are loathsome, and that anyone who questions that sexuality is a technicality is an enemy. Further, Bray encourages behavior that has proven to be harmful to society in general and teens in particular.
Image copyright Scholastic Press. Review copy obtained from Borders; thankfully, it was on sale.
Kim Moreland manages the Colson Center Library, is a research associate for BreakPoint, and writes feature articles and blog posts for BreakPoint.
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