Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

beauty queens

Grab your hosiery and push up bras, girls. Beauty pageants have never been this hard core.

When their plane crash lands on a deserted island, the competitors for Miss Teen Dream Queen must fight for survival while still keeping their bodies and minds in perfect pageant shape. Among them include Adina (Miss New Hampshire), who is only here because she tried to infiltrate the pageant for a news article; Shanti (Miss California), who is worried about competition from the other Beauty-Queen-of-Color, Nicole (Miss Colorado); and the one and only Taylor Renee Hawkins (Miss Texas), who takes it upon herself to lead these poor girls through this time of trial and tribulation. It’s edgy. It’s intense. And the ratings will skyrocket as the body count grows and these girls battle it out for the crown of Miss Teen Dream!

Beauty Queens is, at its core, a satire of reality TV, consumerism, and pageant culture; however, it’s also about growing up and realizing you’ve spent your whole life trying to be someone you’re not. The eight to ten girls who make up the core of the story each has their moment of revelation associated with their feelings surrounding their body image, their sexuality, their culture, and their role as a pageant performer. Sometimes these revelations change them, and sometimes they just reaffirm what the girls already knew about themselves but just kept silenced to appease the judges.

Bray’s ability to work with such a wide, diverse cast is applaudable, as almost every young girl can find their mirror in the cast while also seeing windows into others’ lives. There are lesbians, bisexuals, a transgender girl, two women of color, big girls, small girls, promiscuous girls, chaste girls, girls from single parent homes, girls from all ranges of experiences and cultures. While older girls will probably understand a lot more of the references and satirical humor within the book, I think all girls middle school and up would be able to appreciate the message inherent in the book because of such believable characters to cling to. I do worry about boys’ ability to enjoy this book – not because it’s girly, but because it is very focused on women and womens’ issues. Regardless, it’s a wild ride with some beautiful lessons, from beginning to end, inside and out.

Bray, Libba.  Beauty queens. New York: Scholastic Press, 2011

By Mary

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