Book review: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Beauty Queens book coverBeauty Queens by Libba Bray
Published by: Scholastic
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought, Buy on Amazon, Book Depository
Goodreads rating: 3.59

Synopsis: When a plane crash strands thirteen teen beauty contestants on a mysterious island, they struggle to survive, to get along with one another, to combat the island’s other diabolical occupants, and to learn their dance numbers in case they are rescued in time for the competition.Written by 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.

Beauty Queens is an interesting introduction to feminism, sexism, objectification of women, diversity and relationships. The tone is very prissy, a tad bit passive aggressive, sarcastic, satirical humour. This book is 100% phenomenal. At it’s core it’s about friendship, supporting the women around you and believing in yourself. Libba Bray has taken the idea of beauty pageants and completely flipped it on it’s head. Exploring the pageant girls, their dreams, ambitions and how they are suppressed by the ideologies and expectations society impresses upon young girls. This woman is a genius.

I read a review for this book before reading it, it described the book as Lost meets Clueless. Who would have thought this would be a winning combination?

Beauty pageants & Corporate America 
I don’t know much about pageants and until recently when I read Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, I wasn’t very keen on them. However, Libbra Bray really does demonstrate that for many girls a beauty pageant is a means to an end. Whether it be a confidence boost or the prize money put towards a college education, beauty pageants require girls to have individualistic talents. They aren’t all just airheads. The girls in Beauty Queens are a talented, ambitious bunch and I hope anyone reading this book doesn’t dismiss this or take it for granted. Having said that, I listened to the audiobook of Beauty Queens and giggled all the way through the footnotes and of commercial parodies for stupid beauty products that we constantly hear on a daily basis. Products that show skinny women, that objectify women, products that point out a flaw in women then tells them they must fix themselves. One of the products turns out to be a slight modification away from being a weapon – which is interesting.

It’s amazing that each individual girls is allowed an individual identity and Libba Bray creates these identities fluently, giving each girl a time to shine, but also to develop who they are from the moment they crash on the Island to the final few pages. The story overturns stereotypes one by one. The internalised hatred and competitiveness the girls feel when they crash on the Island soon ebbs away as the misogynistic, Corporation values are not being thrust upon them daily. So instead of competing, they become friends, supporters of one another. “Shanti, who first alienates Nicole for taking her spot as the token minority in the cast, realizes that the two have so much in common—including a shared weariness of the racism and exoticism of the media. By the end of the book, they’re best friends.”

Female solidarity 
This book, thankfully didn’t turn out to be the teen girl version of The Lord of the Flies. The girls bickered and had their difference but overall they supported one another, they stuck up for each other and they accepted each other. In the induced situation of a stranded Island the girls come together, build huts and find ways to eat and drink safely. They create a life.

I could easily write paragraphs about this book and why you should desperately read it. It will make you rethink pageants, makeup, societal norms. Everything, you will question everything. This book was definitely not what I expected, but the surprise was most definitely a positive one. Libba Bray has basically written a hilarious satirical book commentating on our society and the pressures it pushes upon women and girls. This needs to be turned into a TV show!

Have you read Beauty Queens by Libba Bray? What did you think?

  • Louie Stowell

    I haven’t read this one, but Clueless meets Lost sounds incredible! Though I wouldn’t expect it to deconstruct gender so much, so that sounds even better!

  • Michelle

    I read this a few years ago and loved it at the time, but when I read it I wouldn’t have necessarily thought of myself as a feminist. Now that I’ve changed so much I’d love to revisit it and see how I feel 🙂