Monday, August 8, 2011

Review: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Title: Beauty Queens
Author: Libba Bray
Publisher: Scholastic
Date Published: May 24th, 2011
Pages: 390

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? (GoodReads)

I’m sure everyone has thought about the answer to the question, “What would you do if stranded on a [supposedly] deserted island?” Well, Libba Bray has twisted this scenario around to bring her readers a hilarious and engaging story about teenage beauty pageant contestants stranded on a deserted island (or so they thought) after a disastrous plane crash. Upon hearing the premise of this novel, I knew I had to read it! Definitely sounds a little like a female version of Lord of the Flies meets reality television.

Beauty Queens reads as though it is a television show, with a “word from your sponsor” to commercial breaks in-between chapters. This unique format allows the readers to almost feel as though they are sitting on the couch watching the unfolding events, rather than reading. Unlike regular commercials, however, the reader won’t want to turn the channel, because each break provides elements of satire that are congruent with the rest of the story.

Like a television show, this book has a whole cast of characters. There is no one protagonist in this case. Bray uses a third person omniscient narration in order to cover all aspects of the Teen Dreamers.  A cool feature she added was the “Miss Teen Dream Fun Fact Page” scattered throughout the book, which provided a little background information about the surviving Teen Dreamers. This helps readers keep track of everyone involved.  At the same time, Bray expertly gives a voice to each character, separating their personal characteristics. The beauty queens are not annoying and dumb, as they were initially presented. One of the beauty queens, Mary Lou (Miss Nebraska), points out, “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” (177). Without the pressure of looking pretty and being judged, the girls let down their guard and can just be themselves. They discover how diminishing the whole beauty act is for not just themselves, but all females.

Bray uses satire to humorously point out aspects of our culture. For example, “Lady ‘Stache Off” is a multi-use product that not only removes hair, but also moisturizes, self-tans, and sanitizes toilets. The slogan is “Lady ‘Stash Off. Because there’s nothing wrong with you...that can’t be fixed” (37). Themes such as sexism and race are also pretty heavy throughout the book. Many of the girls begin to realize that beauty pageants are so much more than looking pretty and smiling at the judges, “Because it’s wrong! It exploits women. We’re parading around in bathing suits and evening gowns, letting people judge us for the way we look. No wonder the world doesn’t take us seriously” (54).

This is a great book for anyone looking for a good laugh as well as a novel that makes the reader stop and think. It would be great for a book club because there are so many aspects that can be discussed. Definitely pick up Beauty Queens before the summer is through!


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