I have to confess to a sort of fascination with beauty pageants. I have known some super-smart girls who participated in them (and won), so I know they're not all glitz and glamour, but there does seem to be a sort of...seedy underbelly to a lot of the more local contests. That seedy underbelly is on full display in Julie Linker's CROWNED.
The game is ON from the moment Presley finds her boyfriend, Gabe, making out with her archrival, Megan, in the school hallway. It is obvious to Presley that Megan (the nastiest girl on the local pageant circuit) is trying to unnerve her right before the Miss Teen State pageant, and Presley isn't going to let it happen. Presley needs the scholarship money that winning Miss Teen State will bring her and is determined that rich, spoiled Megan will not walk away with the crown. But can Presley beat her without stooping to her level?
There's a lot of great stuff in this book. Linker's nailed the teenage voice here, for one thing - the characters don't sound like what adults think teens sound like. The writing is tight and Linker obviously knows her way around a pageant (or did some really good research). Presley is likable and believable, and her poor-daughter-of-a-single-mother is portrayed matter-of-factly rather than being milked for every ounce of sympathy it might evoke.
I particularly enjoyed a subplot that has Presley volunteering at a nursing home, where she encounters one of the hottest boys in school and begins a sort of Beatrice/Benedick sparring match with him. Presley's brilliant, anal best friend Justine is awesome, and so is the deadly sincere, over the top captain of the cheerleading squad that both Presley and Justine are members of.
This book isn't going to teach anyone a valuable lesson, or change the world. It's just a good time. A good time is not to be lightly discounted. Sometimes, that's just what I need; I'm guessing a lot of teens feel that way too. When they do, hand them CROWNED - I don't believe they'll be disappointed.