One of the few criticisms I've heard of Libba Bray lately is that she attempts to tackle too many concepts in each of her books. Well I agree--partially. That is, I agree that Bray bites off a whole heck of a lot with every book she writes but I am of the opinion that she does it with grace and humor. I've read a few things Bray has written, from her short story in Zombies vs. Unicorns (which I loved) to the series that originally made her famous--the Gemma Doyle trilogy. Now, I mean no offense to Miss Doyle and her delightful Victorian sidekicks, but I'd say that Bray has really hit her stride with her two most recent novels: Going Bovine and Beauty Queens.
Beauty Queens is sort of Lord of the Flies meets Sweet Valley High with a dash of 007 thrown in for good measure. When a plane of teenage beauty queens crashes on a desert island en route to the final pageant, the girls are stranded with nothing but their wits, some straightening irons, and their competitive spirit to survive on an inhospitable island, complete with giant snakes, quicksand, and hallucinogenic berries. Oh, and did I mention that an evil corporation also uses the island as it's super-secret base for arms dealing with some Very Bad People. Now include characters like a former-beauty-queen-turned-Presidential-hopeful (nudge nudge wink wink) who is also in bed (literally) with the aforementioned Very Bad People and a transgender former boy band pop sensation and you are only just beginning to glimpse the casserole of awesome that is Beauty Queens. It's wild but somehow not confusing or jarring, despite the half a dozen or more POV's used to tell the story. What's more, Bray somehow touches upon gender identity and roles, racism, consumerism, trust, and basically what it means to Be a Person Today. Of course, all of this post-modernism is peppered with periodic commercial breaks for Maxi-Pad Pets ("the revolutionary fashion maxi-pad that makes you feel like you've got a special friend in your pants").
Best Beauty Queens Quote--It's a toss up between these two:
"Miss Congeniality is an ambassador of smiles."
"Really, being a librarian is a much more dangerous job than you realize." (You said it, sister.)
Going Bovine is slightly less uplifting than a dozen or so marooned beauty queens but no less complex. Cameron has been diagnosed with a rare but fatal disease. He is going to die. Soon. So when a punk rock angel named Dulcie tells him he can be cured if he goes on a quest, he goes. Because that's what you do when you're going to die at sixteen years old. Along for the ride are Gonzo, a grumpy hypochondriac dwarf, and Balder, a former Norse god imprisoned in the body of a lawn gnome. But the absurdity of the journey leads Cameron to wonder whether this whole crazy trip is nothing but a fever dream as he lies in his bed at the hospital. The book begs the question, "What exactly is reality? And how is your reality any better than mine?" Well, that and, "Where is the best place to go for Spring Break?" It's a dark, surrealist comedy that should read a bit like an existentialist Russian novel--main character is deathly ill and questioning the fabric of reality, losing faith in a higher power, and generally shaking his fist in the face of the universe--but Bray's trademark blend of sincerity and sarcasm manage to ensnare young readers in a way Nikolai Gogol rarely can. Going Bovine also won the Printz Award in 2010.
Best Going Bovine Quote--This gem from Dulcie, in one of the few serious moments in the book:
"You people slay me. Always worrying, 'What will happen? What's next?' Always everywhere but where you actually are. You just don't get it. ... This is it, cowboy. The whole ride. Pay attention."
Though the stories are wildly different both are somehow touching, complex, and hi-freaking-larious. I listened to both as audiobooks and frequently laughed out loud, drawing wary, "are-you-going-to-murder-me-and-freeze-my-body-parts" glances from people near me. I love Libba Bray because she has the same caustic and sarcastic sense of humor that I do although she is, of course, way funnier than I am. (Feel free to disagree at any point here.) And then there's that whole fame and fortune thing. That can't suck.
(Because seriously, how could you not love this chick?)