Books

Being a Queen

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Out author David Valdes Greenwood writes about the other kind of queen.

by Terri Schlichenmeyer

Elbow-elbow, wrist-wrist. It’s good to be the Queen, but it’s hard, too. Everybody expects perfection. Letting your hair down (literally) is often forbidden. Doing the “pretend like you’re icing a cake in the air” wave makes sore arms and impressive biceps. And the cheekbone-challenging smile can never stop. All for prestige and an unimaginably small salary.

Such is the life of the women in The Rhinestone Sisterhood: A Journey through Small-Town America, One Tiara at a Time (Crown Publishing, randomhouse.com/crown), and as you’ll see in the new book by David Valdes Greenwood, thousands of girls around the country aspire to it each year.

Before a girl sets her head on wearing a crown, she needs to decide how she’s going to get it. In Louisiana, as in many parts of the country, there are four varieties of pageant: festival (think Milk Queen); civic (basically, a paid job); scholarship (Miss USA or Miss America); and glitz (where “Jon-Benets of all ages fork over cash to vie for meaningless crowns”). This book is about the first kind of Queen.

When Chelsea was a little girl, she badly wanted to be Rayne Frog Queen. At a size zero, “like a sparrow wrapped in pink silk,” she was quiet and shy, the kind of girl who hated public speaking. So when one mistake almost made her dream hop away, she surprised everybody—even Chelsea—for finding the guts to stand up for herself.

Lauren, the current Fur Queen, had been a festival queen during her entire college career. After all those years of absolutely no free time, a severely ill sister, and warring parents, she was looking forward to a respite at the end of her reign, but hurricanes Rita and Ike had other ideas.

Kristen, says Valdes Greenwood, has one “setting”: herself. Exuberant and willing to do anything in her position as Cattle Queen (that’s her on the book’s cover), she jumps in with both flip-flopped feet. But the negativity-fueled Voy boards (an online forum filled with snark) had plenty to say about her reign.

Beautiful Brandy had an on-again, off-again career as a Queen; first as Miss Andouille, then Yambilee Queen, and now Cotton Queen. Expected to place in the Top 15 in the Queen of Queens pageant, Brandy knows the pressure’s on.

Think it’s easy being Queen? The Rhinestone Sisterhood shows you that the job is real work and being royalty can be a royal pain.

With an unfettered insider’s view of the inner workings and the drama of small-town festivals, openly gay author David Valdes Greenwood pulls aside the velvet curtain to reveal a tradition that is de rigueur for every little burg and borough in the U.S. and Canada. Because he let the Frog Queen have warts and because he called things as he saw them otherwise, I think this book would be a crown jewel on anybody’s bookshelf.

If you’ve got plans for parade-viewing this year, wave at the girls in silk and tulle, then read this book. For Queens—former, current, or future—The Rhinestone Sisterhood is a book to get your satin-gloved hands on.

Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old, and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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Terri Schlichenmeyer

Terry Schlichenmeyer is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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