Monday, March 31, 2014

Book Review: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Title: Beauty Queens
Author: Libba Bray
Published: 2011 by Scholastic
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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

Libba Bray is one of those authors that continues to blow me away at how fantastic her books are. Every book I read by her is totally different from the last and so completely fantastic. Beauty Queens was no exception.

What Libba Bray does so well as an author is write a genius coming-of-age story but disguises it as something very different. In the case of Beauty Queens that true heart of the story is hidden under layers of campy and silly teenage beauty pageant contestants stranded on a deserted island. Like all good books in the Contemporary genre this one walked the line between lighthearted and funny moments with heavy moments that made you think. 

One of the biggest themes in this book is the idea of femininity and beauty. We of course have the backdrop of a beauty pageant where the contestants are judged on their appearance and their "platforms." Most of the characters start as cliché pageant stereotypes , but that was part of their charm. Many of them are ditzy and more concerned about winning and looking pretty than anything else.  But then as their plane crashes and they have to learn how to survive they realize that there is more to life and more to themselves. Throughout the book many of them have these amazing transformations and character arcs as they start to accept themselves for who they are and not what society or other people have always wanted them to be. They become more confident and determined. By the end of the book my opinion of the characters changed as they grew and developed.  

Another fantastic theme in this book was the idea about friendship and acceptance. As you learn more about each character you start to appreciate and identify with their diversity. Libba Bray did an amazing job of packing this cast of characters with people from all walks of like. They weren't just racially and ethnically diverse we also had great LGBT characters. The book explores the idea of sexuality and identity but amid the backdrop of a beauty pageant gives the idea and the characters so much more depth. Throughout the novel as the characters spend time together they must rely on one another and develop these amazing and unlikely friendships. They must get over that competitiveness and learn to work together to survive and thrive.

As far as the plot of the book it was incredibly exciting. There was so much mystery and action. At the start of the book I was convinced that I had figured out the big twist, but in this case I was completely wrong (that is rare). As the characters try to survive on the island they find out that things there are much more sinister than they expected and so is the sponsoring company known only as "The Corporation." Everything builds to a thrilling and surprising conclusion that had me completely riveted. It had as much action and explosions as it had talk about sequins and glitter.

I experienced this book as an audiobook, which I think was a fantastic decision. Not only because it was narrated by the author herself and if you've read some of my other audiobook reviews you know that I love that because you really get the sense of the tone of the book. And Libba Bray was a fantastic narrator. Her tone and inflection completely matched the campy but serious aspects of the book. Plus her accents were fantastic! Her Texas accent was understandably wonderful but so was her Valley Girl, ditzy Southern Belle, and her sarcastic New England elitist. Each voice was so brilliant that it made me want to have Libba Bray narrate my life, and look she agreed to it (Twitter interactions are like an ironclad contract, right?). But the other reason that I was so glad I listened to the audiobook is the format of the book. It was completely perfect for an audiobook. With the alternating point of views, frequent "commercial breaks," and footnotes explaining Corporation products and television shows it seemed perfect for the audiobook format.

I give Beauty Queens by Libba Bray an 8.5 out of 10

I recommend this book to anyone who likes Contemporary books, beauty pageant parodies like Miss Congeniality or Drop Dead Gorgeous, and anyone looking for a book with LGBT characters. It was the perfect book to conclude my March theme of island adventure and escape. If you've read Beauty Queens leave me a comment with your thoughts and of course HAPPY READING!


  1. Agreed! This book was so bizarre and wonderful. It really was unlike anything else I'd ever read. I loved it. Glad you enjoyed it as well. :)

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