Beauty Queens (Summer Series Book Review)

Summer Series 

I love summer books. I love the romance of summer. I love books about different vacation spots. I love books about road trips. I love seeing the beach on the cover of a book. To celebrate this lovely season, every Thursday I’m going to post a book and review of a summer book I’d recommend reading by the pool, at the beach, while driving across America (or whatever country you call home), in a hammock, in a cabin, on a boat, or at home as you dream of vacation. Happy Summer, everyone! 

This week’s summer book is: 
Beauty Queens
Beauty Queens

Author: Libby Bray
Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: May 24, 2011
Number of Pages: 396
Synopsis from Goodreads:

The fifty contestants in the Miss Teen Dream pageant thought this was going to be a fun trip to the beach, where they could parade in their state-appropriate costumes and compete in front of the cameras. But sadly, their airplane had another idea, crashing on a desert island and leaving the survivors stranded with little food, little water, and practically no eyeliner.

What’s a beauty queen to do? Continue to practice for the talent portion of the program – or wrestle snakes to the ground? Get a perfect tan – or learn to run wild? And what should happen when the sexy pirates show up?

Welcome to the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Your tour guide? None other than 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.


As with so many books written by women for teenage girls/women, it would be easy to write off Beauty Queens as ‘chick-lit’ just by looking at the cover. But to do so would be a mistake. Beauty Queens is a hilarious satire that has real things to say about both teenage girls and the world they live in.

I was a teenager in the ’90s, when grunge and ‘uni-sex’ looks were in style, when Sassy magazine was on the shelves, and when My So-Called Life was on TV. The third wave of feminism was going strong and there was a real emergence of strong, political, funny female artists, musicians, and writers. ‘Reality TV’ didn’t really exist yet with the exception of the Real World–a show that, at the time, really did try to examine reality while broaching topics like AIDS, virginity and race issues.

Fast forward to now and you have Kim Kardashian and Snookie, the Real Housewives, the Bachelorette, Teen Mom, Flavor of Love, Toddlers and Tiaras, ad nausem. Yes, for years-decades-women and girls have been exploited to sell the next big thing, but since the 50s I don’t think there has been a period of time in which the female race as we know it have tried to conform to the idea of beauty. To the belief that we need to be thin, beautiful, smart, funny, insert-adjective-here to be someone worthwhile. 

Beauty Queens follows…um, teen beauty queens who are on a flight for a pageant-sponsored trip to the beach. After their plane crashes on a desert island only a handful of the contestants survive. The girls band together for survival only to find out that they aren’t alone on the island after all. Beauty Queens is like a re-imagining of Lord of the Flies–if LotF would have followed teen beauty contestants instead of school boys. Sans the whole pig head on a stick thing, and, oh yeah, sans the whole killing each other and basically becoming the very worst things about society.

I loved the line in the book, which I don’t have on me so I can’t quote it exactly, that basically states that the girls needed to be alone on the island to realize who they really are. In contrast to the boys from Lord of the Flies, the girls of Beauty Queens don’t turn against each other, they turn towards each other because away from society, away from the media and its societal pressures, they are able to become fully realized. Not just as women, but as human beings. 
As much as I liked Beauty Queens, it is not without its share of problems. The over-the-top campy satire does wear thin after awhile and I could have done without a least a few of the “interruptions.” The book would have greatly benefited from having about 50 pages shaved off to make the narrative tighter. BUT I absolutely loved the message of this book and found it absolutely hilarious. I wish that it could be mandatory reading in high schools or junior highs/middle schools alongside Lord of the Flies.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Beauty Queens–with its fake commercial breaks hawking beauty products like “Stache Off”, the beauty product that is one compound away from being a deadly explosive; to its views of a not-to-distant future in each the reality shows are even more ridiculous than they are now. I can completely see this being a movie, although it would inevitable be completely ruined by whatever Hollywood studio bought the rights.  


22 thoughts on “Beauty Queens (Summer Series Book Review)

Add yours

  1. I was conflicted about this one as well. I loved the premise and the writing, but the story got weird for me really fast. I actually would have preferred a non-satirical version. Still, it's a fun book with some important messages for girls and women.


  2. I wouldn't say conflicted because I really did like it. I just wish it would have been trimmed up a bit. I liked the satire and thought it was a great way to get the message across, although a non-satirical version would certainly be interesting, too. The story does get a bit weird, but it's so original so it's easily forgiven. Thanks for stopping by!


  3. I completely agree with this review! I thought this book was hilarious and had so points to make, but it could have been a bit less campy. But on the other hand I think that the camp factor adds to the story. Plus, I just have a major love for Libba's books! If you haven't read Going Bovine, you should read it now!


  4. This book sounds so funny, and I love that it has a great message! The sentence “the beauty product that is one compound away from being a deadly explosive” also makes me really curious! 🙂 Great review!

    Alice @ Alice in Readerland


  5. I haven't read Going Bovine yet. I do want to, but my TBR pile is OUT OF CONTROL. I agree that the camp factor adds to the story and definitely liked that aspect…I just think it would have been more effective if the book was just a smidge shorter. Towards the end I was pretty over it. Thanks for stopping by!


  6. Oh man, I love how well you put the whole theme of self-actualization into words. That is perfection.

    Also, I can see why the little interruptions would be annoying, but I loved them, because they reminded me of Better Off Ted, which has little commercials for the corporation Veridian Dynamics in the episode. However, such humor is of limited appeal to most (thus why Better Off Ted only got two seasons).


  7. Thanks, Christina! I appreciate that. I found the interruptions funny, I just wish they would have been used just a little more sparingly. I think it's just hard to maintain this type of campy over-the-topness for 400 pages. It just started to wear thin after awhile although I did enjoy the book and would definitely recommend it to anyone who would listen. Thanks for stopping by!


  8. I've heard a lot of interesting and primarily positive buzz about this book, though I haven't yet read it. I really loved Bray's other series, “The Diviners,” but you do learn that her writing has a certain verboseness and intensity to it. I think contrasted against some of the campier facets of the book, it would work well here though. Plus, I LOVED Lord of the Flies so I'm interested to see Libba's interpretation of a similar scenario. Great review!


  9. Thanks, Nikki! I did enjoy The Diviners, but it is really different. This book has like an “announcer” and fake commercials and it's just very different. I hope you enjoy it if you decide to pick it up. Thanks for stopping by!


  10. A quick glance at the cover put me off but then I looked closer at the details and laughed. This sounds fun but with a serious message too. Will keep an eye out for it. Oh and I loved My So Called Life when I was younger, thanks for reminding me of it!


  11. Yes, this is definitely one of those books that could easily be dismissed by the cover. LOVED My So-Called Life. I would record the episodes and watch them over and over…and now I have the box set on DVD. I'm pretty sure I have every episode memorized. Jordan. Catalano. Thanks for stopping by!


  12. Awesome review! I've been contemplating getting this one on audio, especially since Libba Bray narrates. I just love when an author narrates their own work because they know just exactly how they intended something to come across.


  13. I actually listened to this on audio, and it made the “interruptions” really come to life, theme music and all!
    I didn't want to pick this up at first because it seemed really shallow, but it was surprisingly good satire. I liked the message and the eccentric characters, but I felt like it got a bit too crazy once the “pirate” boys showed up.
    – Kritika @ Snowflakes and Spider Silk


  14. I definitely need to give this a read at some point! I love how this book is about poking fun at our culture and its obsession with beauty, Libba Bray is an extremely creative and talented author, so I am confident that this is successful in its execution. I sadly haven't read Lord of the Flies either, so maybe I'll try to read them one after the other for comparison's sake.


  15. Actually, I bet the audio for this would be much better than reading it. It's actually been awhile since I've read this one and I've been thinking about re-visiting it. I may have to do so with the audio. The book did start going over the deep end towards the end, but I love the idea of it and thought the execution was pretty good. Thanks for stopping by!


  16. She is. I've only read this and The Diviners, but I enjoyed both immensely. I love the way she uses satire to shine a spotlight on our society's expectations of teen girls. LotF is good. Crazy, but good. Thanks for stopping by!


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