Reviewed by Geoff Tucker
The "Pageant" series of six young adult novels, written by Cherie Bennett, is a wonderful series of books, dealing with the inaugural competition for the Miss Teen Spirit crown. The characters are believable, the narrative is well written, and the events are realistic. Ms. Bennett did her homework well, consulting with pageant titleholders extensively before putting text to page, and it shows.
The books may be summarized as follows Books 1 through 4 (titled, respectively, "The Southern Girls," "The Midwest Girls," "The Northeast Girls" and "The West Coast Girls," deal with the four regional competitions held to select finalists for the national Miss Teen Spirit title. Book 5, "The National Pageant," brings the regional winners together to compete for the national crown, and Book 6, "The Winners on the Road," follows the winner and first runner-up during their reign. Ms. Bennett manages to guide these multiple story lines with admirable dexterity, causing us to see these well-drawn characters with sympathy, and in some cases, disdain.
Of particular note is Alison Gaylord, Miss Teen Southern Star of Louisiana (introduced in the first book and followed throughout the entire series). Alison, nicknamed "The Virus," is one of the main antagonists, and is, quite frankly, as evil as they come, using psychological warfare and other dirty tricks in her quest to win the crown. "The Virus" will, literally, do ANYTHING to win.
Other characters of note are Elizabeth Cromwell-Stevens (the pageant director); Elizabeth's son Justin, who choreographs the pageants beginning in the second book (when he isn't trying to seduce the contestants); Dean Paisley, the music director, who is conducting a secret (and forbidden) romance with pageant contestant Katie Laramie, a poor girl from Virginia whose father is institutionalized; Christy Hwang, a tell-all journalist who enters the pageant under false pretenses in order to write an expose, then rediscovers her sense of ethics; Southern pageant contestant (and archenemy of "The Virus") Scarlett-Caress Latham; Pepper Pierce of Oklahoma, an advocate of abstinence from sex before marriage (who happens to be pregnant by her boyfriend); and Fawn Hanson, adopted out of the foster care system by parents who wanted a trophy child.
In Books 5 and 6, Ms. Bennett meshes her story lines together for a successful, satisfying end to the series, bringing in characters from her "Trash" series of books about a tacky TV talk show that makes Jerry Springer look like "Masterpiece Theatre." Ms. Bennett manages, in this book and Book 6 ("The Winners on the Road," about the reign of the Miss Teen Spirit winner) to wrap up both series at one stroke, yet do so in a manner that seems natural, not forced or contrived.
Copyright 2002 by Starshiners! Productions. First right of publication granted to the Pageant News Bureau (www.pageant.com). Other rights reserved.