“The fifty contestants in the Miss Teen Dream Pageant thought this was going to be a fun trip to the beach, where they could parade in their state-appropriate costumes and compete in front of the cameras. But sadly, their airplane had another idea, crashing on a desert island and leaving the survivors stranded with little food, little water, and practically no eyeliner. What’s a beauty queen to do? Continue to practice for the talent portion of the program – or wrestle snakes to the ground? Get a perfect tan – or learn to run wild? And what should happen when the sexy pirates show up?”
My expectations were awfully high.
And not just because of that flawless, flawless cover art. Going Bovine is on the short list for my favorite books of ALL TIME. Like, I had to go to the sock superstore after I read Going Bovine, because it knocked all of mine off.
Beauty Queens just wasn’t Going Bovine—it clearly wasn’t trying to be. Going Bovine explores the very nature of life, death, and the universe. Beauty Queens is a wacky, light-hearted comedy that also aims to bring up important social issues. But, unfortunately, even taking the difference in mission into account, Beauty Queens didn’t quite measure up for me.
The central problem was heavy-handedness. Yes, the book is funny, and yes it handles social issues fairly well and is fearless about it, but at times, it was like the spice shakers got knocked over and spilled way more into the mixer than the recipe called for. Some of the moments of ditsyness from pageant girls or government agents just made me groan (“Um, I forgot. Why can’t we drink the ocean water again?”), and there were SO MANY social issues packed in, it risked being more a pamphlet than a novel. Sexism, racism, body images, homosexuality, transgenderism, hearing impairment, slut shaming, loss of virginity, sex ed in schools, teen pregnancy, the ugly side of capitalism, the ugly side of US foreign policy, the evils of the beauty industry, environmental destruction, displacement of native peoples, animal testing… oy. Maybe we should take it one book at a time? No one loves to be preached to.
I really did love all of the messages Beauty Queens was sending; and most of the stuff I’ve written lately has had a political message at its core, so I definitely get the inclination to write that way. But there was just no subtlety whatsoever, and it was a little wearying. Maybe I felt a little condescended to, like it was intended for a younger reader in need of education.
I wouldn’t say I didn’t enjoy Beauty Queens. The plot twisted enough to keep things fresh, the characters were strong enough that I wanted good things for them, and it was fun to see how pageant supplies– and pageant girls– were re-purposed for jungle survival. It was a good book to have with me during my recent travels, and it would be a pretty ideal beach read. But my socks stayed on my feet. If you only have time for one book, make it Going Bovine.