Review: Beauty Queens

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Beauty Queens

Libba Bray
Published: May 24, 2011
ARC Received from Scholastic

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From bestselling, Printz Award-winning author Libba Bray, the story of a plane of beauty pageant contestants that crashes on a desert island.

Teen beauty queens. A “Lost”-like island. Mysteries and dangers. No access to email. And the spirit of fierce, feral competition that lives underground in girls, a savage brutality that can only be revealed by a journey into the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Oh, the horror, the horror! Only funnier. With evening gowns. And a body count. -Goodreads
Just a quick note! This is a guest review by one of my best friends in real life. Thanks so much Megan! Y’all should check her out on Twitter @morsini or her blog. She is hilarious and will be a famous author some day. I just know it!

Dear Friends of Chelle,

Hello! My name is Megan and I am also a friend of Chelle. We have so much in common. Our dear mutual friend has been so kind as to share her space (and her books) with me in order that I may review them and bring the review to you. I’m so excited to do this. I imagine us sitting around in our PJ’s, eating popcorn, and talking about books. That sounds fun, right? Maybe one day we can do that. For now I’m still in my PJ’s, but alone, and I desperately WANT popcorn and also it really, really hot in my house. So when we have our sleepover, we’re going to the house with the best air conditioning, yes?

My first review for you is Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens. I’ve been excited to read this book for a while because it’s about Beauty Queens stranded on a deserted island and in my head that just sounds AWESOME. I’m sort of a fair weather Bray fan, having found the first of the Gemma Doyle series to be okay and liking, but not loving, Going Bovine. But based on the aforementioned I knew that if any current YA author was going to take the absurd quality of this topic and make it shine, she would certainly be the one.

If you imagined that Beauty Queens was going to be a sort of female-driven Lord of the Flies then we have even MORE in common. That is definitely the impression that I was under, but was quickly relieved of this preconceived notion in the very first pages. The first chapter is “A Word From Your Sponsor,” and is, much to my embarrassment, laugh out loud funny. (Though, to be clear, by “laugh out loud,” I typically mean a “body-shaking giggle,” but still embarrassing to be seen doing in public!)

The chapters are broken up into three types: There are the narrative chapters, about the girls and the Corporation’s compound on the island (which the girls do not know exists); the words from the Corporation (a business in charge of most of the world’s media, products, and is also in the process of securing an arms trade with a foreign, Elvis-obsessed dictator), and commercial breaks (which are the funniest part of the book and a great parody of our modern commercials). In our culture of Jersey Shore and perfection obsession, this book reads like something you would find on either the reality shows of Bravo or MTV. And by including snippets of Corporation reality shows, I get the impression that this is exactly what Bray was going for.

There is much to love about this book, the foremost of which being the girl-power brought on by the girls as they struggle to survive on a deserted island without food or shelter. While the Beauty Queens could easily have turned into stereotypes, with Bray at the helm they never become cliche. Each one is unique, and away from the societal pressures of being a teenage girl they figure out who they are, what they want, and just what they are capable of. Every type of girl is represented and I can see this as being the kind of book a high school girl would read and cling to, knowing it’s okay to be who she is because even behind the pearly whites and fake tans these beauty queens struggle with the same insecurities and confusion as any typical teenager. While I make it sound sappy and feel good, Bray makes it sharp and funny. The message, at times, can be a little over-the-top, but just when you think, “I can’t take any more of this”, she brings it back to the plucky narrative with witty dialogue and real world parodies.

For those of you looking to recommend this book, be forewarned that the issues of homosexuality and sex are addressed (yes, sex. I know they are on a deserted island so I won’t tell you HOW, but it happens). They are dealt with in a mature manner, but I know some parents might have issues with letting their kids read this book. Which they SHOULDN’T, but who am I to say anything? Just saying. It is a contemporary YA book and contemporary YA issues cannot be ignored.

That being said, my personal opinion of the book is that I enjoyed it. It wasn’t one that I couldn’t put down (like another book I read in the meantime that I finished in, like, two days because HOLY CRAP and because this isn’t about that book I won’t mention any names, but I’ll just say again, HOLY CRAP), but it was one that I definitely didn’t have trouble finishing. I loved the characters and the situations and like where Bray took this topic. Instead of the expected (girls fight it out and ONLY ONE SURVIVES [said in deep announcer voice]), she made a really quirky and fresh book.

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