Published by Scholastic Press on May 24th 2011
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
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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.
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*
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.
Also because they are an incredibly driven group of individuals if you think about it, given the kind of shit they put up with.
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.
Anything can be a turned into a weapon if you’re creative.
Evening wear has a whole variety of uses I’d never considered.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a pirate when you grow up, this is a legitimate dream that many of us have.
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.
It’s okay to be pissed off for no reason sometimes.
Be who you are.
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.
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.