Review: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Featured imageStop what you are doing right now and read this book.  I mean it!   I really wish it had been written when I was a teenager because I could have used this book.  That being said, my 32 year-old self needed this book too.  It works on so many levels.  Taking on feminism, sexism and the unrealistic expectations of beauty on it’s head.  Let’s be honest, no one really expect much from teenage girls.  We expect them to be agreeable, charming, pretty, and happy and not much else. Just like you probably wouldn’t think much about a book about beauty queens stranded on a deserted island either but this is one fine satire.

A plane full of Miss Teen Dream contestants crashes into an island and only 13 girls survive.  It just so happens that the Corporation, a company that owns pretty much everything from beauty products to weapons  and produces TV shows like Miss Teen Dream, has a secret lab on the island and is doing some not good things on it.  The girls crashing on their island is very inconvenient as they are about to make an arms deal with a Dictator of a nation that the US has sanctions against.  If rescue crews were to come to the island for the girls they might start asking questions and the Corporation can’t have that.  They are just girls so they are not that important.  They won’t survive long.  Right? Wrong. What the corporation didn’t take into account was if you want to make it in the pageant world you have to be clever, ambitious and have perseverance.  The girls are not just beauty queens but they are also honor students.  They create their own shelters and build huts.  They invent their own irrigation system and conceive their own fishing lines.  Also they come up with their own weapons for protection.  All of this and they practice their routines because they have to be ready to compete once they are rescued.  They not only survived, they thrived.  Being on a deserted island, away from the influences of their lives the girls discovered who they really are.  They realize that it’s okay to be who they are.  They are not defined by their looks or sexuality or gender or race.  They can be smart, brave, ambitious and strong. They no longer felt the need to conform to other people’s ideals.  They would let it go.   It’s a very powerful message that we all need to read no matter how old you are.  With the push for more diverse literature for young adults this is a good example of it done right.  Yes, a majority of the girls are white but that’s okay because most contestants in Miss America or Miss USA are white so that’s accurate but the minority are represented.  Shanti and Nicole are Indian and African American, respectively.  Sosie is hearing impaired.  Jennifer is a lesbian and Petra is transgender.  Often times these characters are minor, just in passing or the comic relief.  But, not here.  All of these girls are a major part of the story with their own character arcs.  What makes it so wonderful is that they are not your stereotypical but normal.  Miss Bray writes all of them the same way she as she writes her white girls.  They are smart and brave and vulnerable and scared.  Just like any other teenager girl because girls of color, girls with disabilities or girls of the LGTBQ community are still just teenage girls.

These girls may have started the book as victims of a plane crash but by the end they were their own heroines and saved themselves. They did have some help from a group of reality TV pirates but  it was the girls plan that got them off the island.  I actually liked the inclusion of the boys. I think it showed how far the girls came.  They had some moments of boy crazy but their new confidence in themselves saw them take the lead to repairing the pirate ship.  Also, it pointed out that boys also live under some unrealistic expectations as well and that can’t be ignored either.  We all have little boxes that we are supposed to fit into and are often shamed when we don’t.

I can’t say enough how much I enjoyed this book.  It is beyond hilarious.  The satire of the story is A plus.  All the characters are well rounded and complete.  I feel like I’ve known many of them in real life.  I really don’t have enough words to describe how I felt reading it and how feel now.  Just go read it.  Like right now!  You won’t regret it.

P.S.  Who wants Team Sparkle Ponies T-shirts?

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