Monday, 3 September 2012

YA Book Review: 'Beauty Queens' by Libba Bray

Beauty Queens
by Libba Bray

Published: May 24th, 2011
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Source: Purchased from Amazon
Format: Paperback
Pages: 396

Cover Art

I didn't love this cover when I first saw it, but it definitely grew on me as I saw more reviews around that suggested the book was a satire. I think a lot of people have probably bought this book under the apprehension that it is actually about fighting beauty queens...a female 'Lord of the Flies' if you will. It isn't.

Plot Synopsis

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.

My Rating:

First Lines:

'This book begins with a plane crash. We do not want you to worry about this. According to the U.S Department of Unnecessary Statistics, your chances of dying in a plane crash are one in half a million. Whereas your chances of losing your bathing suit bottoms in a strong tide are two to one.'

Pocket-Size Review

I was not expecting to read a dense, feminist novel when I picked by 'Beauty Queens'. But this book is so packed full of equality messages of every type you can hardly move for them.

Highs: This book is actually funny. I loved how fun and farcical it was, imbued with life affirming messages.
Lows: Towards the end, the feminism is heaped on with a shovel and I prefer a little more subtlety! 


This book was a riot. It was silly, it was surreal, it was satirical but it had a good heart. If your expecting Lord of the Flies with make up you are going to be disappointed; this is about girls who actually, shock horror, GET ALONG. You never saw that coming did you.

When we first meet the beauty queens, whose plane has crash landed on a desert island, they appear to be the typical beauty pageant contestants, harping on about world peace and the labels on their clothes. They have ambitions of modelling, television presenting, or marrying rich men. One says,

'I want to pursue a career in the exciting world of weight-management broadcast journalism. And help kids not have cancer and stuff.'

They are initially presented to us as ignorant and somewhat vacuous, which is the impression most people would have of these kind of girls. However, the layers are quickly stripped away and we find that instead of having a communal personality, each girl is an individual with her own unique traits and interests, and each has their own reasons for entering the pageant in the first place. It is interesting to explore each girls' story, with her own heartbreaks and suffering in life, and the prejudices that have been placed against her. Libba Bray deftly explores many of the stigmas associated with gender, race and sexuality in a way that is lighthearted and funny yet really makes you think. 

The main narrative is interspersed with other media in different formats, such as 'A Word From Your Sponsor', 'Commercial Break' a 'Miss Teen Dream Fact Sheet' and radio interviews with a previous Miss Teen Dream winner Ladybird Hope. There are also footnotes, usually providing tongue-in-cheek pop culture references that usually include a ridiculous snippet of information. I loved the satirical nature of these sections, and they often made me laugh out loud. The first word from the sponsor at the beginning of the novel pokes fun of major news corporations, and how they handle news stories,

'But let's not worry shall we? There's nothing to worry about. Though there is a threat of war, it happens in the background, in snippets on the nightly news between ads for sinus medicines. It's none of our concern. This is a happy story.'

I also liked the way it poked fun of the news-speak and jargon that newspapers love; instead of saying that a girl died, they say instead that she 'had her living options curtailed'. There are endless puns and jokes in the footnotes regarding fashion, music and pop culture in general, such as, 

'The House of Roland was the first to introduce sizing lower than 0- the -1- "We make the woman disappear and the fashion appear"

There is also the much quoted boy band 'Boys Will B Boys' whose most popular song was one called, 'Let Me Shave Your Legs Tonight Girl' and 'I Gave Up My Hobbies So I Could Spend More Time With You' the lyrics of which go, 'I'm your virgin crush, your supersafe deal/Let those other guys keep sexing/You and me, we be texting/Bout unicorns and rainbows and our perfect love.' I would definitely listen to that shit. There is a TV show called 'Loch Lomond' which is a suspiciously James-Bond-esque Scottish spy show with the main character asking for, 'the haggis- boiled, not fried.' I personally found it really funny and enjoyed how much mocking went on in the novel, and found myself thinking of things in the real world that were just as ludicrous.

I love these two quotes, as I feel they sum up what is still expected of women in society today, and what is seen as feminine behaviour,

'The system rewards girls for being pretty and it values compliance and conformity, rather than the boldness and rule-breaking that we pride in our boys and which often help them feel entitled to success, to getting ahead in life.'

'In school they would tell you that life wouldn't come to you: you had to go out and make it your own. But when it came to love, the message for girls seemed to be thins: Don't.'

All of the girls on the island present different ways in which girls can't fit into the typical model of what is feminine and what is considered beautiful, whether it be her sexuality, her skin colour, her sexual desire, her past, or her interests. This novel is a celebration of that difference; of individuality and not conforming to general standards of beauty and femininity, and doing things for yourself. 

I was confused at times by what was going on in this novel, and found myself re-reading parts a few times before it stuck. I also found the messages of equality and acceptance became a bit grating after a while, and towards the end the cheese factor became a little too high. I would have liked a bit of subtlety, or maybe just some relief from all the moralising. 

Overall, I thought this novel made some excellent points, and I found it to be a fun and frivolous read that I think I will revisit someday! I would love to see a film made of this book and made even more ludicrous and farcical and outrageous- I would watch that.

Other Thoughts

This Book has Inspired me to Read: Definitely going to dip into some other Libba Bray books now. I like her style.

Memorable Quotes:

'The system rewards girls for being pretty and it values compliance and conformity, rather than the boldness and rule-breaking that we pride in our boys and which often help them feel entitled to success, to getting ahead in life.'

'I'm your virgin crush, your supersafe deal/Let those other guys keep sexing/You and me, we be texting/Bout unicorns and rainbows and our perfect love.'

Three Words to Describe this Book: Funny, Feminist, Farcical.

But Don't Take My Word For It...

  • Blog Reviews of 'Beauty Queens': 

'In the end, I felt that Beauty Queens had all of the quirkiness of a Bryan Fuller show without the charm.  It’s a whole new world of pretty, people.'

'I honestly hope that in the future teens will be discussing Beauty Queens in their book clubs or classrooms. There’s so much food for thought in this awesome read, that I think I could go on discussing it for days and days.'


  1. I thought this book was really funny as well. I personally loved this book. It's one of my favorites now. :) Thanks for your review!

    Krystianna @ Downright Dystopian

  2. This story was hilarious! I've heard that the audio (narrated by Libba Bray herself) is also great, so I've been meaning to give that a try as well! :)

  3. Comedy, historical, romance, mystery. Libba Bray can write it all! I've read all her books and can't wait til the next in the Diviners book comes out.

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