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 camera. 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—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 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.
From the inside flap of BEAUTY QUEENS (Because I love *this* summary so much!)
BEAUTY QUEENS is a book that packs its pages with everything—even the kitchen sink. Yes, really. Anything that can be wormed in is. I don’t mean that in a bad way, either, though at times, the abundance of content can be overwhelming. Printz-winning author Libba Bray is in fine form with her latest novel, a satire reminiscent of movies/books such as DROP DEAD GORGEOUS and MISS CONGENIALITY mashed up with LOST and LORD OF THE FLIES with a touch of the AIRHEAD series by Meg Cabot . Maybe it’s because I recently attended Cindy Pon and Malinda Lo’s DIVERSITY IN YA tour, but more than ever, I feel the need for more diversity in YA. I loved how much was in BEAUTY QUEENS. There are characters of color, characters with disabilities, characters that identify as LGBQT. The list was absolutely extensive. On top of that, this WASN’T an issues book. We need more books like this in YA. (Why are all the diverse books centered around ISSUES?) One of my favorite parts about this novel! There are also reflections on feminism and the way the media controls us and gets us to NEED certain products in our life. The book makes fun of boy bands and Fabio. Oh, and there are super sexy pirates.
Don’t believe me? Here’s a quote from Bray herself during an interview with Borders:
[QUESTION: What was your inspiration for Beauty Queens?]
“My pal-and editor extraordinaire-David Levithan invited me to lunch and said, “Here’s a book I really want you to write: A plane-load of teen beauty queens crashes on a deserted island.”
It was a great idea and he was offering me a burrito-impossible to resist on two counts. I really wanted to write a funny, take-no-prisoners book about growing up female in this insane world of ours in which we don’t want women to have easy access to birth control, but we think it’s perfectly fine to spray-tan toddlers and dress them in fetish wear for a pageant. I wanted to explore gender, sexuality, the beauty industry, race, corporate greed, political shenanigans, reality TV, hot pirates, mixed messages, and my love of sequins.
Apparently, I also wanted to write a Bollywood number and make things explode.”
See? Kitchen sink!
This time around, Bray’s wicked sense of humor really worked for me. I had a little trouble with GOING BOVINE. Someday, I’ll re-read it again and see if I was just in a weird frame of mind at the time. BEAUTY QUEENS had me from page one. Actually, no. It’s had me since I first saw that amazing cover months ago. The day it launched, the book came slithering back to me, knowing I would want it, and forced me to read the inside cover flap to the point where I was laughing out loud. The first couple of pages produced more of the same and I quickly found myself immersed in the novel. BEAUTY QUEENS doesn’t have any one main character, but alternates between the girls so you can get to know each of them. I really liked this move and felt it added an extra layer of depth. Readers really get to know the characters, because time is spent with the girls individually, making it easier to balance a large ensemble cast, a hard feat to pull off.
One of my favorite things was all the additional commentary Bray threw in. To me, it was never preachy and didn’t knock you over the head. There would be notations telling you who a person mentioned was (since this reality isn’t “our” reality, we don’t know anything about certain actors, shows, products, etc. unless there’s a footnote). I also enjoyed the brief interludes between chapters that had characters filling out their profile sheets for the pageant or commercials for crazy, over-the-top products. Everything is sponsored by The Corporation, a mammoth company controlling the country—perhaps the world. The level at which The Corporation has penetrated society reminds me of Stark Megastore, the chilling corporation from Meg Cabot’s gripping AIRHEAD trilogy, a futuristic form of a Wal-Mart that has taken over everything.
There are a couple of times where the story goes beyond the absurd and is so over-the-top that it can be hard to hang on tight. There’s one scene with a pirate toward the end that felt a little believable even in this crazy, outrageous world, for example. For the most part, the writing is witty and tight. Some readers might be offended at the level of blatant swearing and sexuality detailed in the book. BEAUTY QUEENS hides nothing. Literally. NOTHING. If it was a movie, it would be rated R. There were a couple of times I was taken back by the fact that this is a teen book. It feels very mature at times. A lot of the characters also fit various stereotypes, but I feel Bray does this on purpose in order to turn them upside down on their heads the way she does with everything else.
When push comes to shove, I really enjoyed BEAUTY QUEENS. It had me laughing from the get-go, a rare feat that few novels can pull off. It was just the right amount of both light and serious. I read a good chunk of the book outside on a beautiful day and can see this being an optimal beach read. Or a good friend to cozy up with come nightfall. Your choice. I’ve heard that Bray even recorded the audio book herself, so I’m sure listening to the inflections of the author herself will have readers (listeners?) peeing in their pants even harder than reading on their own!
I *love* this cover. It’s one of my favorites of 2011. How fierce is this cover? Seriously, y’all, she’s a bleach blonde in a bikini with a pageant sash, yes, but she also has a bullet sash across her chest. Only, instead of bullets, there are lipstick tubes. It’s GENIUS. It will make people do a double-take and pull the book off the shelf to look at. And who wouldn’t want to read it after checking out the inside flap and reading the first couple of pages?