Libba Bray's Beauty Queens is a satire for young adults with an irresistible premise: a plane full of beauty pageant contestants crashes on a deserted island. In contrast to Lord of the Flies, the dozen or so Miss Teen Dream survivors prove that girls can work together in isolation. Except that it turns out they aren't alone on the island after all...
Beauty Queens is laugh out loud funny. Both in the main text and in an assortment of footnotes, Bray pokes fun at everything from reality television to the fashion industry to CEO's salaries. It's the sort of book from which one could select an amusing quote from nearly any page. Here are a few examples:
"Ohmigosh. No food at all." Tiara sank down on the sand as if the full weight of their predicament had finally hit her. She blinked back tears. And then that megawatt smile that belonged on cereal boxes across the nation reappeared. "I am going to be so superskinny by pageant time!" (Page 11)
"The Shills, The Corporation's wildly popular program about product placement and the teens who love it. Currently, it ranks #3 among the coveted 13-18 demographic, just behind What Would You Do to Be Famous? and My Drama So Tops Your Drama!" (Footnote 5, Page 18)
"The earth beneath them gave way suddenly, and the girls were swept down the mountainside in a spiral of mud and sequins and screams." (Page 55)
We have beauty queens practicing their runway speeches in between scavenging for food and fighting off monster snakes. We have makeup and hairspray used as weapons, and tumbling skills turning out to be useful for fighting. Opportunities for humor abound.
And what of the girls themselves? They start out giving a near-universal impression of shallow inanity (with the exception of Adina from New Hampshire, who turns out to have entered the pageant under false pretenses). But, gradually, most of the girls reveal secrets and/or hidden depths. All of them are changed by their time on the island (most for the better), though it can't be denied that a couple of them remain dim-witted to the end. But really, the beauty of this book is the blossoming of the girls as individuals, and as a team, once they are removed from their original, relentlessly competitive surroundings. Favorite passage:
"Mary Lou wiped fruit juice from her mouth with the back of her hand. "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." (Page 177)
Beauty Queens is not a quick read - it's one to take slowly and savor. The plot meanders a bit. It's more like a serialized television show than a novel (as is clearly the intent). There are quite a few characters to keep straight (though Bray handily lets us know which are the less important characters, by referring to them as Miss New Mexico, etc., instead of by name). There are sections of supplemental material interspersed between chapters, like "Miss Teen Dream Fun Facts Pages!" for the various girls, words from "Your Sponsor" (The Corporation), and "Commercial Breaks". And there are the aforementioned footnotes, 49 in total.
All of this takes a fair bit of time to read through, and is a bit of a change from more standard fast-paced, plot-driven YA novels. But for teens who have a keen sense of humor, and for anyone who enjoys satire, or likes the idea of a book about girls coming into their own that is the very opposite of preachy, Beauty Queens is not to be missed. Highly recommended.
Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: May 24, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.