(#89) Book Review: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

When the contestants in the Miss Teen Dream pageant find themselves stranded on a desert island after their airplane crashes, they assume rescue will come soon.  The surviving girls continue practicing their routines for the pageant, but it isn’t long before they realize that they have bigger concerns.  As the girls struggle with limited food and water resources, they also start to discover who they are when they aren’t being judged.  Oh, and there are sexy pirates.

Bray’s latest novel isn’t interested in presenting a linear story about beauty queens.  With her trademark wit and scorching satire of the culture in which these girls were raised, Bray tackles big identity questions.  Sexual identity, gender politics, and feminism are well-covered here.  She isn’t interested in making nice so much as she’s interested in creating a surrealist satire of the current world, and nothing is off-limits: reality TV, corporate sponsorship, product placement, and obsession with youth and beauty are all covered.   To say that this is a busy book is an understatement.

The book is inter-cut with transcripts from commercials for products produced by The Corporation, as well as informational sheets featuring each of the surviving girls.  There are a lot of funny moments to be found in Bray’s writing, but the funniest moments are some of the quieter ones–the song titles of the former boy band the girls discuss and the repetition of the subtle digs at race and class are some of the best–and the cultural take-downs are strongest when they don’t feel too over-the-top.

That being said, there are a lot of moments that feel like overkill.  The parody and satire is so thick that it can be difficult to slog through some of it.  Each girl gets her own moment to take on her personal demons and obstacles, which is maybe a little bit too much message, especially when one considers the fact that it takes at least half the novel to get all the contestants straight.

This book is sarcastic and often brainy, and it’s clear that Bray is pissed about the state of our cultural world.  She has a sharp, unique voice, and this book is going to resonate with readers who are fed up with the beauty obsession placed on girls today.  Recommended for those looking for an eccentric read.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray.  Scholastic: 2011.  Library copy.

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