Genre: Young Adult Contemporary / Humor / Adventure
Format/pages: Hardcover 390 pages
Format read/Source: Received from Scholastic, read June 12 2011
Rating: 4 / 5 Stars
Beauty Queens is not your usual light summer reading fare. Libba Bray has written a smart, high concept, girl power manifesto that is hilarious and original. The premise is that a plane carrying contestants representing 50 states for the Miss Teen Beauty Pageant crashes on a desert island. The girls have their pageant attire and talent, cosmetics and accessories, and little else with them in the way of survival resources. They need to put aside their vanity and jealousy to try and find a way to survive on the island on their own. This satiric island adventure has a reality TV feel and a mix of Lost, Mean Girls, James Bond, and Lord of the Flies. Can these beauty queens discover their beauty and power beneath the surface and survive?
Beauty Queens has a large, diverse cast of main and supporting characters. In addition to the stranded beauty queens, the island comes complete with a group of cartoonish villains and a band of sexy pirates. The girls each take a turn in the spotlight as they share their stories of how they became involved with the pageant. With this large of a group it may be hard to keep up. After awhile I gave up trying and just let go and enjoyed the ride.
Along the way, the author tackles hard-hitting subjects such as self-esteem, feminism, the beauty industry, advertising, parenting, and sexual identity. This social commentary is creatively presented through the characters stories, and through footnotes about pop culture, scripted commercial breaks, and pageant contestant profile pages. The humor and references are sharp and relevant and it is fun to spot the intended pop culture targets beneath their pseudonyms.
One of my favorite issues discussed in the book is when the girls talked about how they felt the need to apologize after expressing their opinion. I agreed with them that the word “sorry” should be banned from their vocabulary. There are many thought provoking and empowering discussions and revelations like that found throughout the book.
In this over the top social commentary, the girls begin a journey of self-discovery to figure out who they are when they aren’t being judged in a pageant. Though heavy handed at times, the feminist message is relevant in today’s society and delivered in a clever and humorous way. I enjoyed being stranded with these beauty queens and the chance to dig in to these topical issues. This smart book is a great choice for young adults and adults alike to read for some humor and depth in their summer reading mix. Beauty Queens is a memorable ride, and a worthy pick for the summer and beyond.
Find out more, buy the book, or read more reviews here:
- Anti-Corporate Pageant Satire Is the Best: Book Review of Beauty Queens by Libba Bray (thesassylibrarian.blogspot.com)
- Children’s Books: Shipwrecked Beauty Queens (nytimes.com)
- YA Wednesday: A Conversation Between Libba Bray and… Libba Bray (omnivoracious.com)