Review: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

11 December, 2013 Reviews 27 comments

Review: Beauty Queens by Libba BrayBeauty Queens by Libba Bray
Series: Standalone
Published by Scholastic Press on May 24th 2011
Pages: 396
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
Amazon Good BooksBook Depository

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.

From Goodreads

As it is the holiday times, many of you are probably sitting around thinking ‘I need some sort of physical item to show my appreciation for the people in my life whose presence I find pleasing’ and I would like to suggest that this is the item you are looking for.

Beauty Queens is the kind of unadulterated, out-of-control, campy satire that bludgeons my funny bone to smithereens. Fans of Dave Berry, Carl Haissen and Terry Pratchett (they’ve both mastered the art of the comedic footnote) take note. It’s spectacular, it’s snarky, it’s sly and it’s smart. (I’m so giddy it’s making me alliterative.) It’s satire in its best and brightest form and I loved every delicious, over-the-top second of it.

I will issue a disclaimer before I get carried away. If you’re not the kind of reader that can swallow their disbelief in the face of the ridiculous for the sake of having fun, you may not enjoy this book as much as I did. There are a few places where it veers into over-the-top ridiculous territory. (The pirates jump to mind. while fun, I’m still not convinced they were totally necessary.) But if these are the kinds of things you can get past, you’ll find an enjoyable, exciting tale that manages to teach you a thing or two along the way.

Things I Learned From Beauty Queens*

  1. If you’re going to be stranded on a deserted tropical island, it is not a bad thing to be stuck with a bunch of pageant contestants because those girls have all kinds of off-the-wall skills haphazardly picked up to impress judges.

  2. Also because they are an incredibly driven group of individuals if you think about it, given the kind of shit they put up with.

  3. And while we’re on the topic of deserted tropical islands, you should probably thoroughly explore because it seems like they all have secret black ops bunkers of some kind.

  4. Anything can be a turned into a weapon if you’re creative.

  5. Evening wear has a whole variety of uses I’d never considered.

  6. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a pirate when you grow up, this is a legitimate dream that many of us have.

  7. Girls shouldn’t feel like they need to apologize for having an opinion and taking up space in the world just because of their gender.

  8. It’s okay to be pissed off for no reason sometimes.

  9. Be who you are.

  10. Do not mess with girls from Texas.

*some of these were reinforced lessons as opposed to new ones

The biggest thing that I learned from Beauty Queens (and again, this wasn’t so much new information as it was skillfully driven home wrapped in laughter and absurdity) is that girls are amazing. If we can get past this jealous, back-stabbing, judgemental, mean girl trope that’s pushed on us from all sides, stop competing with one another and get on with the business of being ourselves, we can accomplish anything. Isn’t that the kind of empowering, feel-good message we should be drumming impressionable girls’ heads?

“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.”

That seems like a good place to stop right? That right there is an excellent, novel-worthy point to make. But who says you have to stop with one issue? ‘No one!’ shouts my imaginary version of Libba Bray, shaking her pom-poms because why not. ‘Let’s tackle all the issues! Let’s hunt them down and grind them into dust!’

Bray covers sexuality, gender, race, body image, mass media marketing, corporate irresponsibility, consumer-driven culture, familial relationships, the expectations we place on teens to decide who they want to be for the rest of their lives at an absurdly young age (especially considering they are only just starting to figure out who they even are) and many more. Name a YA issue or stereotype, she has almost certainly managed to shoehorn it in and then tear it apart. Bray is ruthless as she mercilessly slices through bullshit, putting words to the things no one can and/or wants to articulate.

Basically, I want every teen girl to read this book. Scratch that, I want every teen to read this book because while it’s focused through a girl power shaped lense, every teen (hell, every person) trying to figure out who they are and who they should be can learn a thing or two from Beauty Queens.

Libba Bray, on the off chance you see this, I’ll just leave this here for you while I run off to check out your other work. I’ve heard promising things about Going Bovine.

Minion applause

The rest of you, go take advantage of this opportunity rampant capitalism has afforded us and go shower your loved ones in book-shaped self-esteem, the gift that keeps on giving.

Meg Morley

Meg Morley

Co-bloggery at Cuddlebuggery
Meg is an all-around book nerd who just really wants to talk about books, preferably with other people but by herself will do. Find her on Goodreads.

27 Responses to “Review: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray”

  1. Mary Weber

    “6.There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a pirate when you grow up, this is a legitimate dream that many of us have.”
    Um, yes, yes it is. *raises hand and thanks you*

    And this book sounds UTTERLY FANTASMIC. I’ve seen it around, but had no idea of its magical laughing powers. So yes, I need it. I need it NOW.

    And minions????!!! My day is made.
    Mary Weber recently posted…FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS by Diana Peterfreund (a book review)My Profile

  2. Kelsey

    I listened to the audiobook for this and I really enjoyed it! The author actually narrated it herself and it was so much fun. I definitely agree that every teen should read this, there was a lot covered that could benefit them.
    I might have to actually get a physical copy and re-read it, since I know a few times I got distracted from it while working.
    Great review!
    Kelsey recently posted…Waiting on Wednesday: Witch FinderMy Profile

    • Meg

      Oooh, I don’t do audiobooks (although I have recently begun to consider giving it a try) but I imagine they can only be that much more fabulous when read by the author. They’d know exactly how to read it for maximum impact. I’m in the market for a physical copy as well. I have it on ebook and it’s less satisfying to pet and hug.

  3. Sandy

    #6 – The other day I saw a promo for Whale Wars and noticed the pirate flag and asked my brother if the people stopping the whaling were pirates and he said yeah. So I told him I wanted to be a pirate and said if his teacher asked what he wanted to be when he grew up to tell her he wants to be a pirate :D.

  4. Wendy Darling

    I feel free to be pissed off without reason already, so do I still need to read this book? Heeee.

    I have only read DIVINERS by Libba Bray–she seems so lovely and hilarious in person and online, but for some reason when I’ve picked up her other books, the humor hasn’t called to me. Your rave review makes me reconsider, though! Maybe I was just cranky pants on those days.
    Wendy Darling recently posted…Fortune’s Pawn: reviewMy Profile

    • Meg

      There are all sorts of lessons to be had from Beauty Queens. 😀

      BQ was my first Libba Bray, so I can’t tell you how it compares to her other stuff. I can see where her type of humor isn’t for everyone, it can get a little intense and/or eye-rolly. I was pulled in by the Texas girl, she fascinated me and I kept wondering who would win in a fight,Taylor or the Terminator (Schwarzenegger version). It was over from there.

  5. Christina Getrost

    Yes!! Thank you for saying what I felt when I read this book, but could not say nearly so well. I LOVE this book and so want to get it into the hands of every teen girl I know and have yet to meet. And it’s just SO.DARN. FUNNY! Especially if you listen to the audio version, because although that makes the footnotes/commercials a little bit more distracting, hearing Libba Bray’s Texas accent is VERY entertaining!

    • Meg

      YES YES YES! I want to stockpile it and hand it out to people. Like a girl scout but with free books instead of for-sale cookies (so, nothing like a girl scout).

  6. Jessie

    I am just impressed that you can even review this one! I read it and I was so entertained and amused that I couldn’t even take notes. I gave up and just gave into the flow of Bray’s pointedly sharp commentary.

    As for over the top, the pirates and the SNAKE scene with Sosie. Just… what? I didn’t mind too much, but that was a bit much. The pirates… well, they could have been cut completely were it up to me.

    #4 is so true. Anything is a weapon to a pissed-off woman!

    And this is your first Libba Bray? IT’S NOT EVEN HER BEST ONE. GO TO A BOOKSTORE. BUY THE DIVINERS. DO IT NOW. And A Great and Terrible Beauty. Meg — what ARE you doing with your life?!

    Just kidding. I thoroughly enjoyed this review and I love that you loved it!

    • Meg Morley

      I could definitely see cutting the pirates, although I came to love some of them so I’m not 100% against their presence. There were definitely a couple of places where I was raising my eyebrows as far as they would go.

      When they started showing off their arsenal I LOLed so hard I cried.

      I am definitely climbing on the Libba Bray train, no worries! As for what I’m doing with my life, recovering from Noughts and Crosses. As you will soon understand. Mwahaha.

  7. Christina (A Reader of Fictions)

    I’m remembering how someone called this book a shitfest and feeling sad. Maybe I should focus on the review, hm? Oooh, Terry Pratchett. YES PLEASE. Also, you’ve spelled Hiaasen wrong. *coughs*

    I like how this book has the same setting/premise as LOST, but actually makes way more sense even though it’s a satire.

    “Evening wear has a whole variety of uses I’d never considered.” LOOOOOL

    “It’s okay to be pissed off for no reason sometimes.” Well, good, because I do this all the time.

    Girls ARE amazing. This basically starts out typical YA girl-hatey and then is all hahaha FUCK THAT. Ugh, that quote. It’s so good I’m kind of disgusted. But not really.

    Oooh, I own Going Bovine, but haven’t read it. I know you’re shocked.

  8. Tina

    So glad you enjoyed this book as well. I loved it – precisely because it was so over-the-top and ridiculous. I think Libba Bray does a really good job of making crazy things seem not as crazy.
    Tina recently posted…Att Reverse LookupMy Profile

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