Sunday, September 8, 2013

Humor and Genre Fiction, or I am a Crabby Old Lady

I don't like humor in my sci-fi or fantasy. I like my genre fiction dark, serious, and brooding, much like Sayid from Lost.

If he were a book, I would lick - I mean read it.
Much to the chagrin of almost everyone I know, I can't stand Doctor Who. It's too silly. You've got this guy, who is essentially a man-child, tear-assing through space and time, making messes and ruining peoples' lives. And everyone thinks he's adorable so it's okay. "Oh, the Doctor just sentenced Rose to an eternity in time/space hell, but we forgive him because he's totes hot." Why anyone would get into that phone booth with that crazy bastard is beyond me.

But this isn't a post about Doctor Who. It's a post about how I was pleasantly surprised by quite enjoying two books by Libba Bray when I wasn't expecting to. The first is Going Bovine and the other is Beauty Queens.

A few years ago, I read Bray's Gemma Doyle trilogy. Those books are serious, dark, and brooding and I loved them. Gemma and some other girls from a Victorian boarding school discover an alternate world that at first seems full of fairies and sunshine. But this world gets darker and creepier as the trilogy goes on.

Bray's next book, Going Bovine, came out in 2009, and then Beauty Queens came out in 2011. By looking at the covers of these books and reading the dust jackets, I couldn't believe this was the same author.

I ignored both of these books until this month. I couldn't figure out what the September book would be for my teeny tiny YA book club and my boss suggested Going Bovine. I was all, "Ugh... this looks stupid." But it won the Printz and I liked Gemma Doyle so I gave it a try. Going Bovine is the story of Cameron, a high school kid who doesn't really care about anyone except himself and is kind of a jerk. Cameron gets diagnosed with Mad Cow Disease and sees all kinds of crazy stuff. He can no longer tell hallucinations from reality. One evening, while researching his illness online, Cameron is told to "follow the feather" and is sent on a roadtrip/planet saving mission by a punk rock angel named Dulcie. There is also a paranoid dwarf, a Norse god in a garden gnome's body, and a drag queen. I only mention the drag queen because, HOLY CRAP I LOVE DRAG QUEENS!

Going Bovine was darkly funny and also bittersweet. It's a satire on what it really means to live, even if the space of time in which you have to do so is cut drastically short. One of my favorite parts is when Cameron and company encounter the Church of Everlasting Satisfaction and Snack-n-Bowl. Are the good parts of life worth anything if we never experience the bad? This book made me laugh out loud, or lol as the kids say. That's a rare thing.

I just finished Beauty Queens yesterday. I liked Going Bovine so much that I ran out and bought it. I devoured Beauty Queens in big gulps, taking out half the book in one sitting. Beauty Queens is about a group of girls competing for the title of Miss Teen Dream. Their plane crash lands en route to a tropical island getaway where they were to practice their moves and get prettied up. All adults and more than half of the contestants die in the crash. The remaining girls are left to figure out how to survive on this island with nothing except what they could salvage from the plane wreckage. Every girl has a secret, some dire, some depressing, some fantastic, and learning about each one kept me turning the pages. Bray goes even further down the road of satire in Beauty Queens, providing footnotes and "commercial breaks" throughout.
I loved that Beauty Queens was empowering without being cliche or preachy. Each girl was her own unique self with merits and faults. Each girl also came to her own self realization in very natural ways. The overall message was one of being comfortable with who you are even if it takes a while to figure it out, and even if you mess up along the way. Aside from that, Beauty Queens was just so much frigging fun! I really wish this book had been around when I was a teen.

So, Libba Bray has taught me that I can appreciate humor in my fiction. But only if it's dark humor. Dark and brooding humor...

1 comment:

  1. I'm the opposite with horror films or books, I mainly like them if they have humor in them and really don't watch/read any modern ones. I love hearing about other peoples tastes in books. Everyone one is different and thats really cool. Hell, I don't really go for realistic fiction at all unless its by a writer I like a lot or written by someone I know.

    Mar is always trying to get me to read Libba Bray books. I've loved the short stories I've read by her. I really enjoyed Zombies Vs. Unicorns