Saturday, July 30, 2011

Different for Girls

I don’t know why it’s taken me this long to write about Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens. You guys, this book was delightful. And I mean that in the purest form – it actually filled me with delight more than once.  The basic premise of the book is that a group of girls traveling to a Miss Teen Dream Pageant crash land on a “deserted” island. Of course, the island isn’t challenge enough, so they are forced to face a corrupt Corporation, a power-mad former beauty queen (modeled maybe just a bit on Sarah P., 2nd runner-up to Miss Alaska), and a mad-mad dictator with a stuffed lemur named General Good Times for a best friend/trusted advisor. 

I’ve read a few reviews talking about the contrast/subversion to Lord of the Flies, but as Joe Jackson knew so well, It's Different For Girls. Instead of degenerating  into survival of the fittest, the girls work together, with all the skills garnered for competing in pageants. The joy in learning that baton twirling and straight iron skills have real-life, life-saving applications frees the girls to be, finally, what they are. And, being from Texas, I was especially pleased to see Miss Texas, Taylor Rene Krystal Hawkins, go feral and take over the whole stinking jungle.

The dialogue is funny and realistic, but the footnotes were genius.  The brilliant Corporation product placements and commercials were a strong callback to Better Off Ted and Veridian Dynamics. This is my favorite summer read so far.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Book Stack


Currently Engaged

In the Wings

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Becoming a Woman

When I was a teenager, the books all came with pensive looking girls on the front cover, holding a book or a flower right up near their heads. There were a few happy girls sprinkled in here and there, (and one memorably scarring time, a girl shooting out of a swimming pool, all open mouth, horse teeth, and short wet hair. You know the book. She was a champion swimmer, but could she win at love?!?), but for the most part Y.A. book covers looked like feminine hygiene pamphlets and the contents were not nearly as intriguing.*

The plotting was lazy and shallow and characters were perfect morality plays in action. Nice girls always won the boy, even if he was momentarily diverted by the only girl in town with actual hips to sway. I loved all these books, but I hated to buy them even when they only cost a $1.25. You read them once, then they dissolved and you never thought about them again. ** And our parents wondered why we devoured Flowers in the Attic – it wasn’t any less realistic than Bitsy’s Summer of Too Many Boys.

Young adult books hit the apex of stupid with the Fear Street series and its kin. Hundreds of books with less plot than the maze on the back of the Happy Meal box. But then, instead of wallowing in the stupid, Y.A. books took a sharp upward turn into pure magic. Books written for teens over the last 20 years are arguably the purest form of American literature, with finely developed characters and nuanced plots. In a market where it pays to reflect the experience of every teenager, authors are managing to pull it off. In the last few weeks, I’ve read about every variety of home life imaginable – orphans, fosters, two-parent, one-parent, divorced, gay, living in the mall***, everything.

I’d make an argument that Chick Lit had become the Sweet Valley High of literature, but I have to make a lot of distinctions in that one, so I’ll save it for another day.

*A disclaimer that of course there were great young adult books in the 1980’s. We had Judy Blume, Ellen Conford, and Julian F. Thompson and…I’m sure there are more. I'll wake up in the middle of the night, shouting out author names.

**Except for the swimmer girl and a book called P.S. I Love You, but the P.S. stood for Palm Springs and for Paul (Something-or-Another). Clever, huh?

***Did you know that Night of the Comet is streaming on Netflix. WIN!

Monday, July 25, 2011

If You Leave Me Now

I read. A lot. And with all the widgets and sites that were meant to lead us from one great book to another, there's no accounting for the quirks that pop up in a reading list. With music, you add one little Beastie Boys song to your R.E.M. Pandora account and it's playing Peter Cetera before you know what's happened. Bookwise, you admit a fondness for celebrity autobiographies, Y.A. fiction, or great chick lit and you're having to bulk load Jane Austen titles to the list to maintain any literature credibility.

I'm hoping this will turn into a literary circle of epic proportions. And by epic proportions, I mean that I'd love to have enough recommended books to stay ahead of my local library hold list. So, I'm hoping I can tell you what I read and love and you guys can throw in a recommendation for various scenic overlooks or roadside attractions along the way. I'll try not to make this like a third-grade book review - (If you want to know more, you'll have to read the book!) - but I do jump genres and I'll have a lot more to say about some books than others. This could be fun.