Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Book Review: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Title: Beauty Queens

Author: Libba Bray

Published: May 2011

Pages: 396 (hardcover)

Check out the full synopsis on Goodreads!

When the plane holding the fifty contestants of the Miss Teen Dream pageant crashes on a deserted island, no one sees it coming. With the camera crew and many of their fellow contestants dead, the thirteen remaining Teen Dreamers have to figure out a way to get off the island and survive in the meantime--all while honing their pageant skills, of course. But things aren't exactly as they seem. The girls aren't the only ones on this island, and the other inhabitants have a vested interest in keeping them there.

I don’t even know where to start with this book. It’s Lord of the Flies meets Miss Congeniality meets Drop Dead Gorgeous (a mockumentary about beauty pageants in suburban Minnesota, for those who haven’t heard of it; it includes Kirsten Dunst screaming, “This isn’t an American Teen Princess Pageant, this is Nazi Germany!”).

It took me about 5-10 pages to throw myself into it, because while it is absolutely set in our world, it’s like an extreme, social commentary-ridden parody of it. Don’t let that turn you off, though. There are some pretty sick burns regarding consumer culture and the profits companies stand to lose once teen girls figure out they don’t have to hate themselves. There are commercials for fake products interspersed throughout the book that had me laughing out loud. There are never-ending footnotes to explain the pop culture references our Teen Dreamers make, and they’re all amazing. The Teen Dreamer bios also pop up every other chapter or so, and you will fall in love with everyone.

I basically spent every moment of this book either smiling delightedly or laughing so hard they heard me all the way across the library.

I was trying to pick a favorite character and realized it was impossible.  Miss New Hampshire (Adina), our cynical sneak of a high school journalist, has entered the pageant in order to expose its ridiculousness. She’s the Ralph of this story, and her desire to find food and shelter and, you know, get the heck off of this island often go unheeded by her foil, Miss Texas. Miss Texas (Taylor) is a walking nightmare. She is ruthless, efficient, determined, and knows her way around a gun thanks to being an army brat. She is spectacular, and her eventual morph into Teen Dreamer Rambo is a sight to behold.

While these two tend to be at the center of most of the conflicts (at least, until the girls realize that they’re intentionally being left to fend for themselves by The Corporation, a shadow-y organization that’s not actually all that shadow-y and is a clear dig at the entirety of the American government and its love affair with big business), so many of the other girls get the chance to shine and man, do they ever. Mary Lou (Miss Nebraska) has a story many of us can relate to as she seems locked in an internal battle with her own desires. The entire cast is pretty diverse, honestly. We have contestants of color who discuss, internally and with one another, the racism inherent in pageantry and a lot of other aspects of life. We have characters of all different backgrounds and sexualities, and there’s even a trans character who not only gets a lot of screen time, but gets to kick a lot of butt.

They all kick a lot of butt. And they do it in high heels.

This book is awesome, and I highly recommend it. 


Want to check out Beauty Queens? Find it here on the CMRLS catalog and place a hold on it!