Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

May 27, 2011 § 3 Comments

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 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 sexy pirates show up? Welcome to the heart of non-exfoliated darkness.

Let it be known that I’ve loved all of Libba Bray’s books. I blew through her Gemma Doyle Trilogy and lapped up Going Bovine. Beauty Queens was no exception, and in my opinion, is her best book to date. While the concept of the book alone is hilarious to me – Bray’s witty take on today’s commercialism and focus on beauty really set this book apart. Her satirical voice and penchant for quirk grabbed me on the first page, and the adventures that follow abound. The island has a Lost-like element, with questions and mysteries that tie into what the pageant may be about.

All of this kept me piqued while tackling heavy messages: racial stereotyping, homosexuality, transgender issues, female acceptance and empowerment. But the book doesn’t take itself too seriously, either. It almost had an island Austen Powers-esque quality. You can’t go long without laughing.

Libba Bray interviewed herself here, and if I may, I’ll post an excerpt of it:

“I kept coming back to Lord of the Flies. Golding paints a pretty grim picture of humanity. Without the trappings of civilization, the boys devolve into savagery. But for the girls in Beauty Queens, it’s almost the opposite: Without the expectations & pressures of civilization, they have the freedom to be themselves—or at least to start figuring out who they might be.”

 That really summed up how these interesting characters evolve. While some might be quick to dismiss these girls as empty shells with grand tiara dreams and nothing else, there is more to them than that. One of the girls even says as much,

“Maybe girls need an island to find themselves. Maybe they need a place where no one’s watching them so they can be who they really are.”

I adored this book and wish it were available to me years ago when I was a young adult. Thank you, Libba Bray for writing it.

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