The premise is that a plane carrying a load of beauty queens crashes on a desert island. Shock, horror, they have to do without their fake tan and straighteners and do stuff like hunt for food and build shelters. Meanwhile, elsewhere on the island a sinister force is at work.
So, I nearly DNF’d this a number of times. It has the dubious distinction of trying to do too much, whilst at the same time being mildly boring. Eventually towards the end I just started skim-reading and when I finally finished it I knew I had to write this review as soon as possible otherwise I’d completely forget what happened.
The book can be separated into two strands: plot and issues. Most books manage to blend these two elements together, make the plot about the issues and so on, but here they are completely separate. Like you have a few pages of plot, and then it will just skip into some issues. And then back to some plot. And then some more issues.
So first: the plot. I didn’t understand what was going on. I just didn’t get it. It read like a very camp action film, and not in a good way. I think it was *supposed* to be that contrived and ridiculous, but I’m really not sure. One thing I’ll say: Libba Bray loves her tropes (the baddies have a volcano lair). I like a trope, but this was all done in a very arch, knowing way that made me alternate between rolling my eyes and yawning.
Unfortunately, the plot is only thinly spread over what amounts to an essay on What’s Wrong With Society. This brings me to the issues.
So Libba Bray covers a lot of ground with issues in this book, and that’s really the only reason it has managed a 2.5 star rating instead of a DNF. It shows the pressure society puts on girls to conform to an arbitrarily-determined feminine ideal. It also deals with diversity, and how if you’re not straight and white the world can leave you feeling pretty marginalised. And it also bangs on about how evil corporations are taking over the world.
And the thing is: these are all opinions I agree with. But it was being handled in such a preachy way, it made the book not-fun to read. It was written in a tone that assumed I inherently disagreed with the underlying messages of the book, which I don’t. I’m a feminist. I love diverse characters in books. I think that Google is basically Skynet. Don’t get me wrong: the issues that Bray introduces are real issues and need to be talked about, but it is possible to write a book that discusses issues and also has a great plot and interesting characters. None of the characters here felt very fleshed-out. There were too many narratives, and in the endthey all ended up being defined by their diverse status (e.g. the lesbian, the feminist, the celibate etc).
The desert island setting was something I actually bought into. Take a bunch of girls away from societal pressures and see how they develop with only themselves to tell them who they ought to be. I mean, it was the busiest desert island I’ve ever read about, what with pirates and volcano-lair-baddies, but it was a good conceit and this book would totally have worked for me if the girls had just been left alone, Lord Of The Flies style.
So, I left feeling a bit disappointed by this book. I could really see what the author was trying to do, and the premise was good, but for me it fell short of the mark.