I received a copy of this as an ARC a while ago, but I liked it enough that I bought a copy of it for a reread. I think the best way to describe PRETTY UGLY is to say that it's one part Drop Dead Gorgeous, one part BIG TROUBLE, and one part Toddlers in Tiaras. The humor in this book is pretty mean-spirited and crude, so it's not super surprising that this author has worked on shows like Family Guy, but unlike Family Guy (in its current incarnation, at least), PRETTY UGLY is actually funny.
PRETTY UGLY follows one dysfunctional family and takes a look at how child pageants shape all their lives. Miranda Miller, the mom, won a teenage pageant when she was young by process of elimination and it gave her a taste for winning. She's decided to live vicariously through her daughter, Bailey, who is sick of the whole circus and has decided to binge-eat so as to gain weight and spite her mother. Miranda has two boys, but she mostly ignores them and dumps them off with her crazy mother, Joan, to watch, who "home schools" them by letting them eat junk food and watch all the TV they want. Joan thinks she hears the voice of Jesus in her head, like he's her own personal life coach. Lastly, there's Ray, the husband. Ray works at a hospice, and his two major passions in life consist of 1: eating his patients' cocktails of pills and guessing what they are by the effects on his body and 2: having sex with the underage grand-daughter of one of his patients, because, in his mind the desperate emasculated SOB wants to feel like a stallion. Obviously, NONE of this is sustainable, and the family goes through major, MAJOR drama.
I've never really liked the idea of pageants. I'm a feminist, and think there's something inherently disgusting about parading women around on a stage before dissecting their features like they're attractive slabs of meat on a lab table. Doing it to children is even more inherently nauseating, because at least some women could argue that they feel empowered by pageants, that doing it gives them a stepping stone to other future projects and career opportunities, that it's their choice - but children have no way of truly consenting in the matter, and I suspect that many of them would much rather be playing with kids of their own age and being kids, instead of stomping around to Christina Aguilera songs on a stage while wearing a dress that has way too many dyed feathers on it.
PRETTY UGLY is not a nice book and the people in it are not good people. I have a fairly dark and cynical sense of humor, so I found this book more amusing than most, but I think there's something in this book guaranteed to cause offense to virtually anyone. That's why I found it funny: I think it's a pretty pitch-perfect look at a certain group of people and what drives them to do the things that they do. It's worth reading if you think you can stomach the content. CollegeHumor's amusing new reboot of Precious Plum (a none-too-subtle parody of Honey BooBoo) is written much in the same vein, but PRETTY UGLY is far less crude and cruel with regard to how it treats its victims.
3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars