Chynna Clugston’s never been shy about acknowledging her pop culture inspirations and interests, and in Queen Bee, it’s no different. During the talent competition, lead character Haley sings The Go-Go’s “We’ve Got the Beat”. When trying to figure out how to be popular, Haley watches classic teen movies from the 80s and today. Clugston also mentions Mean Girls a couple of times, which given how similar the plot is, may be too often.
Haley is psychokinetic — she can move things with her mind. She’s always been an outcast, so when her mother moves them to the big city, Haley sees her new school as her chance to be popular. She studies up, gets new clothes, and practices being cool. A nice girl named Trini shows her around and introduces her to the cliques in a scene you’ve seen before if you’ve ever watched any teen movie.
Since this is intended to be a series of graphic novels [although no more ever appeared], we’re introduced to a set of interesting girl characters, Trini’s friends, that promptly disappear from this volume. Instead, Haley’s conflict comes with the jealousy of one of the already popular girls. That’s another plot element that gets truncated strangely, with their competition being a problem and then suddenly not.
The main story begins when Alexa shows up. She has powers similar to Haley’s, but she’s more experienced with them. She quickly takes Haley’s place among the popular girls, which undercuts the ultimate message of the book. If Haley’s meant to learn that there are more important things than being popular — like honesty and trust — then why spend so much of the book setting up a situation where we’re supposed to root for her to get the better of Alexa?
Due to Alexa’s evil plotting, Haley winds up in scholastic trouble, which leads her to making friends with a nice boy named Jasper. Once they get together, we hear no more about Haley’s grade problems. Instead, the focus switches to the talent contest. Also, the mental powers didn’t seem to me to be fully integrated or even necessary to this kind of story.
Others have speculated that this book isn’t as enjoyable as Clugston’s other work (most notably Blue Monday) because of forced editing from the publisher. I see the opposite problem; I think tighter, experienced editing might have provided more focus and fewer aborted plotlines. In preparation for future volumes, the author is still introducing new elements in the last twelve pages, plot questions that the teenage or older reader will easily figure out.
In short, while a new Clugston is always fun to read, this book wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as I’d hoped, perhaps due to the focus on a younger audience. It’s hard to write for them without writing down to them, and for the older reader, this book is too familiar in the wrong ways. I do hope, though, that readers new to comics will use it as a stepping stone.