“ Genre: Junior Books / Author: Caroline B. Cooney / Paperback / 186 Pages / Book is published 1997-07-10 by Mammoth „
Scottie-Ann McKane may be smart, but her big sister Dane is beautiful. Not particularly talented, an unremarkable student and verging on anorexic, but beautiful. And in the world of teenage beauty pageants, it's beauty that matters.
Caroline B Cooney was one of my favourite authors at secondary school. She writes cheerful, fun stories that are fairly short, and her books still get pulled off the shelves by me when I feel like snuggling up on the sofa under a quilt for a couple of hours of simple storytelling. This has always been one of my favourites because the story revolves around beauty pageants, something I always used to be interested in since they remind me of the dancing festivals I took part in.
Twenty Pageants Later is not a book that's big on action or horror. Instead, it's a reflective tale of a daughter who lives in the shadows of her accolade winning sister, and is struggling to find her way in life. Scottie-Ann is used to being compared to her sister, and has learnt to deal with it: it's not that hard since pageants are a weekend thing, easy to keep separate from her student life. This changes when the school decides to put on a pageant to raise funds for their library, and Dane is drafted in to coach the girls who decided to enter.
Though a typical young adult story in many ways, the book stands out because of the way the young love angle is thrown to the back to make way for the real theme of pageants. Details of these are scattered on every page - the who, the what, the when, the where and the why. Tips on winning are thrown around like confetti, a few here, a few there. Scottie-Ann may take a cynical view when it comes to the contests, but years in the back seat have left her with a formidable knowledge to pass on through her role as narrator. Half way through the book the story takes a new direction with an enrolment on a special Russian course at Yale for students still in high school. This makes for a great contrast with the pageant angle - the disparity of brains and beauty if you will.
The ideas in the book change just like ideas in our minds can. At first Scottie-Ann is extremely against pageants and all they stand for, but as things evolve and new characters appear, she begins to realise that it's simply success that matters to so many people, no matter what arena they find it in, and a burning question begins to emerge: is success still success if it comes without limelight and great fanfare?
In addition to the topics the book covers, I like the writing style. I like the way it stops and starts, but still manages to flow. I like the way the author uses precise, detailed language to portray a very distinct picture of what is going on, both in the outside world and the inside minds. I like the way the book drags the story on without speeding through, so you still have time to think and digest. I like the way there are, by the end of the story, several interweaving sub-plots that eventually neatly tie into one. And I like the regular but not excessive turns and detours in the story so you never know exactly how it's going to turn out.
There's also a lovely wry humour to it. At one point, Dane has just given an outstanding answer in the interview section of a pageant, and the press have picked up on it, many interviewing her for her comments post-contest. Back home she is glued to the TV, waiting for her profile to appear and her story to be told:
"That week, however, a volcano erupted, a government toppled, a senator was accused of weird sexual practices and inflation increased. Although Dane was poised on the edge of 'going somewhere' (which is the whole point of pageants for many girls), she didn't."
The reading age for this one is 10 plus, with a focus on the plus. I'm 26 (until tomorrow, ahem) and I would still read it happily. A great read for fans of the films 'Drop Dead Gorgeous' or 'Little Miss Sunshine'
Available from 1p used on Amazon, and in many libraries. A bargain without a doubt.