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Beauty Queens

Review

Beauty Queens

You've seen "Lost," you've read LORD OF THE FLIES, you've at least heard of "Gilligan's Island." And there may be a ton of other plane-crashed-on-a-desert-island books and movies with their stock characters --- a doctor, maybe, and a girly girl who can't handle being shipwrecked. But you've never read BEAUTY QUEENS, and now you must.

The Corporation sponsors the Miss Teen Dream Pageant, the contestants of which are on a plane headed to an exotic tropical location for the final national pageant. When the plane crashes, the documentary crew, the pageant chaperones, and all non-beauty queens perish. What's left is a handful of pageant contestants who must band together despite their competitive natures in order to survive on what appears to be a deserted island.

Immediately a battle between the quintessential ditzy beauty queen, Taylor (Miss Texas), and the undercover feminist faux beauty queen, Adina (Miss New Hampshire), begins. Who will be the team captain? And should the priority be shelter-building and food-gathering, or should the girls continue to focus on pageant prep?

What seems like a no-brainer question to us isn't such an easy one to answer if you're a girl who lives under the governance of the Corporation. And it's especially hard when you're any of these girls, because each one has a back story and a reason why it's extremely important to compete in and win the Miss Teen Dream Pageant --- and it's not just because they're all obsessed with hair and clothes. Alternating between tons of character perspectives, BEAUTY QUEENS remains organized and tight as it moves through the weeks the girls spend on the island.

Meanwhile, we get to learn a little bit about the Corporation, a new form of government that makes a pretty clear statement about the state of American politics. Secret agents hash out a political plot, and slowly it comes to involve the marooned teens. We also meet a band of British pirates, stars of a popular Corporation reality show.

What easily could be a ditzy story about ditzy girls isn't. What could be an obvious feminist tale about learning to love inner beauty isn't. What could be a bad imitation of ANIMAL FARM isn't. Instead, BEAUTY QUEENS is a smart, snappy satire, incorporating elements of farce, dystopia, chick lit, action flick and feminist narrative while never seeming like a formulaic, dull version of any one of those genres. For those looking for an easy beach read, this book will deliver. For girls wanting a novel that engages them and challenges their thinking, this book will deliver as well. Even with such a large cast of characters, Libba Bray remains truthful to each one, and it is utterly refreshing to see such a realistic and confirming portrayal of young people of color, and LGBT teens too.

If that weren't enough, BEAUTY QUEENS manages to turn the popular girl and alternative, anti-popular girl tropes on their heads. Unlike many other intelligent novels of satire out there, it is the women of this story who are fully realized and the men who can be caricatures. Though its title may not make you think it, BEAUTY QUEENS is not just a fluffy, quickly written novel by someone who thinks teens don't read smart books. It makes a strong case for the next generation of progressive feminists, and it's an incredibly fun read along the way.

Reviewed by Sarah Hannah Gomez on May 24, 2011

Beauty Queens
by Libba Bray

  • Publication Date: June 1, 2012
  • Genres: Fiction, Young Adult 12+
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0439895987
  • ISBN-13: 9780439895989