Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Review: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Tags: YA, satire, beauty pageants, conspiracy, feminism, sexuality


When a plane full of The Corporations teenage beauty queen contestants crash on a deserted island, the surviving girls must bond together to survive and keep up their pageant training. But even as the girls struggle to understand one another and themselves, the island holds secrets that The Corporation might be willing to kill to keep them hidden…


BEAUTY QUEENS cements Libba Bray as the spokesperson of the level of intelligence that can be accomplished in YA literature. Regardless if humor and satire are not your thing, you should read BEAUTY QUEENS, for it comments on just about everything that is troubling about our society.

BEAUTY QUEENS features an ensemble cast, so we end up learning about a dozen or so girls and rooting for even those whom we thought were initially annoying or dumb. Bray works with a lot of hot topics in her book: feminism, beauty pageants, advertising, LGBT, and female sexuality, just to name a few. She skillfully weaves all these dozens of issues into the personalities and worries of the girls, so that while many of them have hilariously over-the-top dumb lines, we know that there is more meant than what is being said.

Some books have trouble even fully exploring just one topic, let alone several dozen. Frankly, I don’t know how Libba does it, how she managed to keep track of all the characters and all the issues they deal with. Which is why BEAUTY QUEENS is clearly the work of a genius. While at times the ridiculousness of the girls’ predicament and what they encounter on the island (e.g., hallucinatory plants and an evil dictator whose talk reminded me of the Foosa leader from the movie Madagascar) made me shake my head in disbelief, I think everything works for the good of the main message: Libba Bray invites us to question what society tells us and what we typically blindly believe. Her over-the-top story forces us to confront our own passive acceptance of the way things are and encourages us to think for ourselves.

It’s hard to talk about the quality of characterization or pacing or world-building or any of those typical things one of my typical reviews would talk about. That’s because Libba has got those writing essentials in spades, and then she kind of throws them all aside and takes a giant risk. It’s succeeded: BEAUTY QUEENS has escaped the usual limitations of literature, particularly YA fiction, and broken new ground. With this as the new standard of intelligence to match, YA should never be the same again.

Similar Authors
Megan McCafferty (Bumped)
M. T. Anderson (Feed)

Cover discussion: How badass is that cover? Like the book, it's daring and satirical and bitingly funny.

Scholastic / May 24, 2011 / Hardcover / 400pp. / $18.99

Sent by publisher for review.

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