A cleareyed look at an iconic beauty pageant and its efforts to stave off irrelevance.



The Miss America program heads toward its second century still trying to shed its image as a “leg show” or “cheesecake with a side of culture.”

Journalist Mifflin offers a lively and probing appraisal of a pageant that will observe its centennial in 2021. Drawing on research that includes interviews with former Miss Americas from different eras, this well-balanced account shows that while the program has helped many contestants envision futures beyond their hometowns, it has always had unsavory aspects at odds with its organizers’ efforts to invest it with a wholesome image. The most egregious of these, formally adopted in 1940 and in effect until the 1950s, required contestants to be “in good health and of the white race.” Fresh troubles hit in later decades as feminists’ protests and expanding women’s rights made the program look out of touch. Organizers tried to adapt by killing the swimsuit competition (2018) and having each contestant choose a “social issues platform” to promote (1990). Still, the TV ratings tanked, the number of entrants plunged, and the pageant CEO was forced out after emails surfaced showing that he had “slut-shamed” contestants. Perhaps the most disturbing fact in this book is that since 2007, entrants have had to engage in what Kate Shindle, Miss America 1998, calls “pay to play.” Each contestant “must raise a minimum amount—by soliciting donations—to compete,” and while some of the proceeds go to children’s hospitals, much of it goes to pageant scholarships, so that “contestants themselves have funded 85 percent of Miss America’s scholarships.” Mifflin relates all of this without descending into ridicule or screed and with a keen sympathy for both the costs and benefits to entrants. Whether fans or foes of Miss America, few readers will see the pageant in the same way after finishing this book.

A cleareyed look at an iconic beauty pageant and its efforts to stave off irrelevance. (16-page color insert)

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64009-223-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: April 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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Disingenuous when not willfully oblivious.


The former vice president reflects warmly on the president whose followers were encouraged to hang him.

Pence’s calm during the Trump years has been a source of bemusement, especially during the administration’s calamitous demise. In this bulky, oddly uncurious political memoir, Pence suggests the source of his composure is simple: frequent prayer and bottomless patience for politicking. After a relatively speedy recap of his personal and political history in Indiana—born-again Christian, conservative radio host, congressman, governor—he remembers greeting the prospect of serving under Trump with enthusiasm. He “was giving voice to the desperation and frustration caused by decades of government mismanagement,” he writes. Recounting how the Trump-Pence ticket won the White House in 2016, he recalls Trump as a fundamentally hardworking president, albeit one who often shot from the hip. Yet Pence finds Trump’s impulsivity an asset, setting contentious foreign leaders and Democrats off-balance. Soon they settled into good cop–bad cop roles; he was “the gentler voice,” while “it was Trump’s job to bring the thunder.” Throughout, Pence rationalizes and forgives all sorts of thundering. Sniping at John McCain? McCain never really took the time to understand him! Revolving-door staffers? He’s running government like a business! That phone call with Ukraine’s president? Overblown! Downplaying the threat Covid-19 presented in early 2020? Evidence, somehow, of “the leadership that President Trump showed in the early, harrowing days of the pandemic.” But for a second-in-command to such a disruptive figure, Pence dwells little on Trump’s motivations, which makes the story’s climax—Trump’s 2020 election denials and the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection—impossible for him to reconcile. How could such a selfless patriot fall under the sway of bad lawyers and conspiracy theorists? God only knows. Chalk it up to Pence's forgiving nature. In the lengthy acknowledgments he thanks seemingly everybody he’s known personally or politically; but one name’s missing.

Disingenuous when not willfully oblivious.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2022

ISBN: 9781982190330

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2022

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A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.


From the Pocket Change Collective series

Artist and activist Vaid-Menon demonstrates how the normativity of the gender binary represses creativity and inflicts physical and emotional violence.

The author, whose parents emigrated from India, writes about how enforcement of the gender binary begins before birth and affects people in all stages of life, with people of color being especially vulnerable due to Western conceptions of gender as binary. Gender assignments create a narrative for how a person should behave, what they are allowed to like or wear, and how they express themself. Punishment of nonconformity leads to an inseparable link between gender and shame. Vaid-Menon challenges familiar arguments against gender nonconformity, breaking them down into four categories—dismissal, inconvenience, biology, and the slippery slope (fear of the consequences of acceptance). Headers in bold font create an accessible navigation experience from one analysis to the next. The prose maintains a conversational tone that feels as intimate and vulnerable as talking with a best friend. At the same time, the author's turns of phrase in moments of deep insight ring with precision and poetry. In one reflection, they write, “the most lethal part of the human body is not the fist; it is the eye. What people see and how people see it has everything to do with power.” While this short essay speaks honestly of pain and injustice, it concludes with encouragement and an invitation into a future that celebrates transformation.

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change. (writing prompt) (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09465-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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