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I ended up listening to more on the way to work today (after literal weeks of avoiding it), and I just.

I gotta talk about this book, okay. It is a trainwreck, and if I don't start talking about it, all of my thoughts are going to explode.

So, here are a bunch of spoilers:

To start out with, this book ("this book" being Beauty Queens, by Libba Bray) has an agenda. It very clearly has an agenda that starts out from basically the first paragraph. And that agenda is leftist - and doing poorly with it. It's a helluva lot more blatant in its satire/parody elements than Lord of the Flies, which I honestly find a little bit tiring? I prefer my blatant parodies in short doses rather than full novels, and while Beauty Queens definitely has more to it than parody, parody is also very heavy in the worldbuilding of the book.

For example, practically everything in the world is run by The Corporation. No name, literally just The Corporation. They're running the beauty pageant the main characters are going to be competing in, have a line of (frequently horribly damaging) beauty products, a host of reality TV shows, blatantly terrible romcom movies, etc etc etc. Pretty much everything they make is blatant parody. The Corporation is also embedded in the supposedly deserted island that the girls' plane crash-lands on, and has slightly chemically altered one of their products (a combination hair-remover and toilet cleaner) to sell as a weapon to the US-installed fascist leader of an imaginary Middle-Eastern country (said leader himself being a horrible parody as well, and the entire setup an allusion to actual US actions that most of the target audience probably has no idea about), who plans to use it on rebels.

Some of the characters:

Petra - Our aforementioned trans girl. The narrative actually uses her correct pronouns pretty consistently for the most part, and she is never presented, from her own point of view, as anyone other than a girl. The narrative includes accepting parents who want her to have everything she wants to be exactly who she is.

She is also deadnamed several times in the narrative, several of the other contestants refer to her as a boy (some briefly, one longer than the others, though the two haven't interacted in a good while so I don't know if that's still going on), she is pressured into outing herself twice, and her mother apparently wants her to have "the surgery". Like, this is her mother's goal for her; she always wanted her daughter to have "the surgery". Petra seems to want it too(?), and entered the pageant as a means to get the money to pay for it after her parents drained their savings to fight her mom's cancer.

Oh, and Petra also started the book with seven days of hormones (HRT?). I'm not sure that trans kids are legally allowed to start on anything besides puberty blockers before the age of majority? Either way, several weeks have explicitly passed since the start of the book, and there has been no further mention of Petra's hormone treatment since she was forced to out herself the first time around.

Adina Greenberg - Our "main" main character, more-or-less. Adina was identified as Jewish very early in the narrative, but unless there's a whooooole lot going on that my gentile ears are missing, she's done basically two explicitly Jewish things: Refrained from joining in a group prayer to Jesus, and thinking a mourner's prayer over the people they lost to the plane crash - both in the first chapter. Sadly, the latter is still more than I was expecting from the book, which set me up for some serious disappointment. I mean, as soon as I figured out Adina was Jewish, I spent about two seconds hoping for Shira Glassman-style improvised Shabbas, then talked myself back from that expectation with everything I've learned since I first read The Second Mango. (Mostly that Jewish characters are usually only Jewish as a counterpoint to Christmas and sometimes for bar mitzvah troubles.) There's narrative stuff that could suggest that Adina is cut off from her culture (Adina's mother is on her fifth husband, a fact of which Adina is both ashamed and spiteful), but since the narrative never actually says it, I'm at a loss.

Adina is in the early stages of feminism; she still doesn't quite grasp how anyone could find makeup empowering and blames girls and women for "objectifying themselves". Her goal in entering the competition was to eventually write an expose on it and how anti-feminist it is.

Jennifer - Lesbian from Detroit. Super into comics. And also super into the next character. Already one more queer character than I was expecting.

Soci - I hope I'm spelling her name correctly, but I'm not currently planning to look it up. Anyway, Soci is Deaf. She had hearing aids, but they were lost to a snake; she can read lips and is fluent in ASL. She's also bisexual? Ish? Probably?

I was actually pretty stoked when Jennifer's interest in Soci was starting to be returned, because she brings the total queer character count up to three, two of which I had no idea about before reading the book. Sadly, Soci has never been introduced to the word 'bisexual' (or pan, or omni, or polysexual, or multi, or...). Neither has Jennifer, apparently. The author has definitely heard the word and knows what it means, though, because immediately after Soci and Jennifer get together is a nice, long parody scene about how bisexual people aren't actually like real people, they're just into it 'cuz it's hot. As of two-thirds of the way through the book, the narrative hasn't explicitly identified Soci as bi and Soci still apparently doesn't know the word.

Petra presumably knows the word, if only because (IIRC) she volunteers at a local LGBT center, and the B is right there in the acronym, but aside from Jennifer standing up for Petra after the latter is forced to out herself, they don't really interact? I mean, Jennifer and Soci interact because they're dating, but they don't really connect as queer people with Petra, and that Bothers me.

Nicole - Black girl from Colorado. She's one of two girls of color in the narrative, which the author uses decently well as far as I can tell through my Whiteness, and the subject of race comes up no small number of times. Through Nicole we learn that many of the previous Black contestants have gone on to television roles as the Sassy Black Friend. She spends the first half of the book trying to connect with and being rebuked by the next character.

Shaunti - Indian (SEA) girl from California. Describes herself as super Type A. Very competitive, to the point where she forces Petra to out herself as a means to eliminate her competition. She also identifies Nicole as her competition in "being brown/ethnic", which they discuss in the book; Shaunti knows that, in the history of the pageant, there have never been two brown girls finishing in the top tier. Therefore, she identifies Nicole as a threat to her rank, and basically treats her like shit. Shaunti eventually gets over herself, but Nicole has to save her from quicksand for the breakthrough to happen.

There's probably a lot more going on with Nicole and Shaunti that I'm not picking up due to Privilege Goggles. If anyone here has read the book and has more to add, I am super interested in what you have to say.


I'm currently at about chapter twenty-five. Not too many chapters earlier, Boys were introduced, at least two of them as explicit love interests for some of the female characters. (One of them ends up dating Petra, which is related to her second outing of herself.)

One of the boys, Duff, shows interest in Adina, who is totally taken with him. She tries to fight her own attraction, but her attraction wins, as does his charm. ...The word charm there? Used very intentionally.

The squicking point I mentioned in my previous post about this book is related directly to these two. Adina had just admitted her attraction to and interest in Duff, and they go to his cabin in the boys' wrecked "pirate ship" to get their thing on. Duff pressures her pretty hard about it, and as enthusiastic as Adina is, I definitely wasn't entirely comfortable with everything he was trying. Adina does call him out on it, and he agrees it wasn't cool, but still makes several "jokes" about having blue balls and so forth from Adina vetoing PIV intercourse - until he mentions that he can find a condom.

Right before they get down to business, Duff flips a switch - which he tells Adina is turning off "an alarm that goes off sometimes".

The pirate ship the boys crash-landed on? Is part of a pirate-themed reality TV show.

If you guessed that the switch Duff flipped is actually a camera, you're correct.

So was I.

I suspected from the moment he flipped the switch that was what he was doing, and was immediately squicked the hell out by the plot implications. The possibility that he'd turned the camera off instead of on occurred to me, but that still wasn't great.

During my ride to work today, it was confirmed that he'd been turning the camera on.

Adina smashes the camera and her best friend gives Duff a black eye, but I'm still squicked out by this plot decision in general.

We've got one self-identified feminist among the contestants, and she's used and brought down by a man.

I mean, I'm willing to assume the author had good intentions for, like, the entirety of the book? But wow, everything here feels like a study in how good intentions aren't enough.


The other plot point that happened on my way to work that I want to talk about is Soci breaking up with Jennifer. I mean, extremely minor bonus points to the author that Soci didn't dump Jennifer for a boy, but it's still a bi girl breaking a poor, innocent Lesbian's heart.

Jennifer also seems to be the only one who has bothered to learn any ASL from Soci. The desire to learn originated in her romantic interest in Soci, and I'm ...really not sure how I feel about that, aside from "not great". (No one else wanted to learn even a little ASL? And even Jennifer may not have if she hadn't been romantically interested in Soci? Er. Yikes?)


Anyway, I'm currently planning to finish the book, if only for the I Can't Look Away factor, but yeah. Definitely a trainwreck. "Lord of the Flies But With Beauty Queens and a Trans Girl" is very much not the description I would use.

It's also something I would consider for a deconstruction, actually, together with Cinder. I may have to give that idea some more thought.
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