Review: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
Author: Libba Bray
Publisher: Scholastic Inc.
Publication Date: May 24, 2011
Age Group/Genre: Young Adult/Humor
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. (Cover photo and synopsis from Goodreads)
A New Fangirl…
So I own Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty, and I’ve been meaning to read it forever. But I just had to get Beauty Queens and read it first, so I decided I’d read it right before the Austin Teen Book Festival, where Ms. Bray would be the key-note speaker, as well as a panelist. So that’s what I did. I started reading almost a week before ATBF, but my hectic life got in the way and I didn’t finish it until after the event. I still wanted to get it signed, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to, because her line was the longest and my feet were killing me.
But let me just tell you about Libba Bray at the 2012 ATBF. First of all, she opened the show with fog and a whole lightsaber fight, wearing a cape and underwear over her pants. Then she read a fantastically funny and moving key-note speech where she cussed and said things like, “Farts are always funny.” Then she took off her costume and lo and behold, she was wearing a Doctor Who shirt. So basically, I’m a fangirl now. I mean, I was starting to become a fan while reading Beauty Queens, but seeing her in person totally sealed the deal. Okay, now onto the actual review…
So Clever It’s Crazy…
Beauty Queens is not your typical YA novel. It really kind of falls under the “Humor” genre, and while many YA novels are humorous, there aren’t too many (at least that I know of), that don’t really fit under any other category. Although, I guess that Beauty Queens could also fall under “Feminist Lit” or something like that, because this is the ultimate Girl Power book. And I loved every second of it.
So not only does Bray hit you with these beautiful feminist manifestos, but she does it in an epically clever way. Each of the Teen Dream contestants fall under over-exaggerated stereotypes, but Bray molds each character in such a way that they not only defy these stereotypes, but embrace them as well. They’re like hyper-stereotypes. Superstereotypes, if you will. (I’m not really sure how to articulate that, so I apologize if I’ve totally confused you.)
And along the way, Bray sprinkles the story with commercial breaks and product placement, as well as thinly-disguised references to pop culture. She even threw in some nods to her author friends, like David Levithan, who pitched the idea of beauty queens stranded on a deserted island to her in the first place. I loved when I’d see all these little pop culture references (50 million bonus points for the Doctor Who reference!), because not only were they awesome and hilarious, but they made me feel like Bray was right in front of me, giving me a little wink, like it was our own inside joke.
I loved the characters. Ladybird Hope may be one of my new favorite characters of all time. And I really grew to love most of the contestants, even though, at first, it seemed that I really only connected to a few of them. I even didn’t hate Taylor (Miss Texas) at the end. Thus another example of Bray’s brilliance, because trust me, Taylor was totally hateable at the beginning.
And I loved the over-the-top plot. It was a mix of old TV shows, newer Reality TV shows, comic books and literary tropes, as well as a blending of Lost and Lord of the Flies and Drop Dead Gorgeous. Seriously, how can that combination ever be bad?
The whole book was full of fantastic quotable lines, but here are just a few of my favorite quotes from Beauty Queens: