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 delighted me in every way possible. Brandishing dark comedy and satire, it elucidates and explores complex themes such as feminism, racism, ethnicity, identity, disabilities, gender, sexuality, prejudice, and social standards. That’s a lot of themes to explore, but Bray has done it fantastically. Paired with its plot – when a plane crashes on a remote island, thirteen beauty pageant contestants are the only survivors – the result is an excellent book that manages to be ridiculous but also incredibly intelligent, honest and genuine.
Perhaps the reason why is owed to its strong cast: beauty pageant contestants, competing for Miss Teen Dream, who are easy to judge on the surface, but are, as we find, complex and compelling individuals. Each character possessed unique experiences, struggles and growth, giving the themes raw voice, emotion, and humanity. Beauty Queen delves into the pressures women face to meet society’s standards – to look good, to act proper, to be what people expect women to be, but also how girls can break away from this to develop their unique identities and agency. It’s bloody brilliant.
Punctuated in between the chapters are fictional advertisements that satirize consumerism, and ‘fun facts pages’ of the pageant contestants that underpin how we objectify and market people like products. Though witty and funny, these short pieces offer thought-provoking insights into the underlying messages that pervade our media. The book also expertly criticizes and satirizes our cultural obsession with beauty, and how the media we consume is manufactured with agendas that appeal and manipulate our wants and desires. As I always say, when dissecting media, the writer always has an aim – it’s just a matter of underpinning that aim and examining it with a critical eye.
CAPTAIN SINJIN: Gentlemen, we may get a battle yet.
FIRST MATE GEORGE: Should we oil our pecs, sir, so that we’ll look fantastic during the fight scenes?
The writing and humour is blunt and absolutely exaggerated, but that’s why I enjoyed it. The humour isn’t subtle, but that isn’t a bad thing at all; in fact, its brazen, loud, and the unapologetic prods and ridicule are refreshing. Bray doesn’t shy away from portraying the ridiculous societal and cultural norms that surround us and what we (perhaps unconsciously) perpetuate, but the honesty in the jokes implores us to confront these ideas and think about it. Why do we accept some things as the norm? What is the norm? How is it defined and how did it come to be? Beauty Queens can be absolutely ridiculous and silly, but its humour is always precise and with purpose.
“What was your favourite song of theirs?” Tiara asked.
“‘Let Me Shave Your Legs Tonight, Girl,'” Petra blurted out.
Nicole chimed in. “‘I Gave Up My Hobbies So I Could Spend More Time with You.’ ‘I Love You Like a Stalker!’ Or — ooh, I know: ‘Safe Tween Crush’?”
Perhaps most importantly, Beauty Queens is also about forging female friendships rather than female competition, understanding ourselves and each other, and how our identities are more than just a compilation of labels. There are some incredible friendships and sisterhood that develop in this book – some in the most unexpected and, of course, funniest ways – and shows the many possibilities if we help each other.
Beauty Queens can be enjoyed as a lighthearted read full of laughs, or it can be an excellent piece of cultural analysis – or both! Ultimately, Beauty Queens was an empowering, important, and a fantastic read; I loved it immensely.
Book Name: Beauty Queens
Author: Libba Bray
Publisher: Scholastic Paperbacks
This book has a great balance of comedy and seriousness when addressing its multiplicity of themes. If you know someone who wants to learn about feminism, this is a great book to recommend to them! (It also prods at capitalism and consumerism too.)
- Have you read Beauty Queens? What did you think of it?
- Do you think comedy and satire are great ways to raise awareness? Why or why not?
- Would you be interested in reading Beauty Queens?