by Libba Bray
Original Publication Date: May 2011
Length: 396 pages
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Obtained Via: I received this book as part of a trade
Format Read In: paperback
View at the Traffic light:
The fifty contestants in the Miss Teen Dream pageant thought this was going to be a fun trip to the beach, where they could parade in their state-appropriate costumes and compete in front of the cameras. But sadly, their airplane had another idea, crashing on a desert island and leaving the survivors stranded with little food, little water, and practically no eyeliner.
What’s a beauty queen to do? Continue to practice for the talent portion of the program – or wrestle snakes to the ground? Get a perfect tan – or learn to run wild? And what should happen when the sexy pirates show up?
Welcome to the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Your tour guide? None other than Libba Bray, the hilarious, sensational, Printz Award-winning author of A Great and Terrible Beauty and Going Bovine. The result is a novel that will make you laugh, make you think, and make you never see beauty the same way again.
Beauty Queens might be one of the strangest books I’ve ever read. It starts off with a note from the sponsor of the Teen Dream beauty contest, a corporate entity called. . . The Corporation. Subtle, that. And yet, despite the strange 20 pages I read that had me contemplating if this book was worthy of finishing, I grew to really, really like it–and maybe even love it.
Make no mistake, Beauty Queens is heavy-handed satire. It’s funny and mostly well-drawn, but there’s hardly a single issue related to gender, sexuality, and media that Bray doesn’t address at some point. Most of the time, that worked, but at others I felt that there was such a push to put EVERY! SINGLE! ISSUE! into Beauty Queens that some of the issues the book attempts to address suffer because of it. Being that the girls are confined on an island for so long and have discussions about being beauty queens, the book handles that sort of topic–gender identity, what women are expected to be, etc, really well. But Beauty Queens also addresses some topics that fall flat, such as the inclusion of a cross-dressing reality TV pirate. There just wasn’t enough time to draw out some of those things fully.
Other than that, the only real complaint I have about Beauty Queens is the large cast, and how some of the girls aren’t known by anything other than their state, which just got confusing. I didn’t learn one of the character’s name until the last chapter.
While these aspects did affect my enjoyment of Beauty Queens, the parts I liked greatly outweighed these flaws. The humor and satire in Beauty Queens made me chuckle, which rarely happens in books. There are so many great lines I had to read multiple times to appreciate. The way everything came together in the end was, like most of the book, ridiculous in the best possible way. I never thought I would use the word ridiculous so many times in a review and mean it as a compliment, but in this case it absolutely is.
Even though the main story of Beauty Queens is the surviving pageant contestants being stranded on what they believe to be a deserted island, there’s small breaks throughout the book. These breaks act as “voice-overs” on TV would, notes from The Corporation. There’s also footnotes throughout the book that give more information about the various products mentioned in the book, which I love, since most of them read as advertisements for things you would NEVER want to buy(like a beauty product to “fix your earlobes”). Whenever the girls did something that went against the what The Corporation would want the girls to do, there’s a note about it, such as this one:
“The Corporation would like to apologize for the preceding pages. Of course, it’s not all right for girls to behave this way. Sexuality is not meant to be this way – an honest, consensual expression in which a girl might take an active role when she feels good and ready and not one minute before. No. Sexual desire is meant to sell soap. And cars. And beer. And religion.”
I thought the characters in Beauty Queens was really well done. Almost all of them start off as mostly self-imposed stereotypes, but along the way they learn and grow and decide to not be afraid to show their true selves. And I liked that Bray didn’t try to make their enjoyment of dresses or pageant things or make-up a bad thing. They decide it’s not so important after awhile, at least not as important as building shelter or you know, drinkable water. But they all slowly get to decide what their REAL interest are: do they like these things only because they’re “suppose” to? And for some things, the answer is YES, and for others the answer is no. It’s the perfect development in the middle of all the weird things in the novel that makes it work so well.
“As one, they leap, laughing, and that is where we leave them – mouths open, arms spread wide, fingers splayed to take in the whole world, bodies flying high in defiance of gravity, as if they will never fall.”
Beauty Queens might be a weird book, but it’s worth it.
Even though Beauty Queens is really heavy-handed in most of its messages, I still found it really enjoyable! The large cast of characters was confusing at first but it got easier to keep track of it all over time. I thought the way the characters learned to relate to each other and learn about themselves was fantastic, and I loved the additions of footnotes and breaks from The Corporation. Parts made me laugh, parts made me frown, but more than anything, parts of this novel made me smile. 4/5 cupcakes.