Thursday, June 9, 2011

Book Review: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Title: Beauty Queens
Author: Libba Bray
Reading Level: Older Young Adult
Publisher: Scholastic
ARC, 390 pages
Date Published: May 24, 2011
Description (Provided by Big Honcho Media - Add the book on 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 complete 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 eye liner.

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.

Beauty Queens is…

One freaking crazy book about beauty queens (duh!) who are stranded on an island after their plane crashes. It’s rife with death, stereotypes, an almost audible laughtrack, product placements, self-esteem issues, a transgender contestant, a lesbian, sex, a deaf girl who can boogie, an undercover reporter, a controlling government, the undermining of women, and even a very short bad guy who is obsessed with Elvis and his dead, stuffed lemur. Weird, right?

Libba Bray has somehow combined all these things to create this chaotic mess of a book that is both an uproarious riot, but also a satirical look at our society where sex sells and beauty queens are the ideal image for women. Beauty Queens spotlights some obvious qualms with society, but it does so a little too blatantly. It’s funny, sure, but that humor tends to undermine the impact of satire. After a while, I felt like the book was beating me over the head with glaring ads about the perfect body, but maybe that’s the point.

The cast of characters, while fun, are difficult to keep straight at the beginning. There are so many girls and they go by their states, not names to begin with, but once they start coming into their own, I could begin to distinguish them from one another and they become much more likable in the process. Adina (Miss New Hampshire) has this dry sense of humor and a very ‘stick it to the man’ attitude that I loved. Petra (Miss Rhode Island) is just, ‘wow, didn’t see that one coming,’ kind of cool. Then Shanti (Miss California) and Nicole (Miss Colorado), the minorities, being an Indian and a black girl respectively, bring this unexpected humor, but heart to the story. Mary Lou (Miss Nebraska) is a welcome surprise with her purity ring, wildness, and a bit of wisdom thrown in. Then there’s Taylor. She’s the queen bee, Miss Texas, and as much as I enjoyed seeing her get knocked down a peg or two, her craziness thrilled me.

The quippy one-liners – courtesy of Adina, most of the time – lend to the book’s laugh-out-loud funniness, but it’s the girls’ realizations and motivations to be different that make it a great read. Beauty queens are nothing more than a pretty face, or at least that’s what we’re told, but these girls are so much more than that and getting to see them for who they really are was a pleasure. Also getting to see them be resourceful, battle pirates (sort of – don’t want to give it away), discover a secret government operation to illegally trade arms with the aforementioned very short bad guy, and put on a beauty pageant are cool too.

Beauty Queens is wild ride of consumerism, human rights violations, a whacked out blonde girl with a gun, super secret government projects, Lost references (page 21!), Doctor Who references (can’t remember what page!), funny names (David L. Evithan!), stereotypes that ridicule themselves, girls with brains (shocker!), some swearing thrown in for good measure, and a ruckus of a good time (despite all the death!). It’s insane (as I’ve said before) and quite possibly the most wondrously strange book I’ve ever read.

Opening line: This book begins with a plane crash. ~ pg. 1

Favorite lines/passages (Too many to list, but here’s a few):
“You are truly Stan’s sequined spawn.” ~ pg. 97
If I was drinking when I read this, I would have spewed it everywhere:
“Westerfeld?” The one guard looked to the other. “Did you read the Corporation pamphlet on racial sensitivity in the workplace?”
“No. I read Sexual Harassment and You: Why Sally Cries When You Touch Her in Meetings.” ~ pg. 307
I'll be repeating this lovely one often:
“Teen girls are made of moonbeams and princess sweat.” ~ pg. 334
*This is the ARC version and lines, pages, cover art, etc. may differ from final copy
*This review is my honest opinion and I received no monetary compensation from it.

Find Libba Bray online:

Buy it online:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Borders | The Book Depository | Indiebound

Scholastic has launched a new online community called This Is Teen to connect readers with their favorite YA authors and books. Visit their page on Facebook for all the latest news on Libba Bray and her new book Beauty Queens:

Scholastic has this fantastic Beauty Queens contest going on right now. Enter at
Ladies and gentlemen, we want to know WHAT MAKES YOU A BEAUTY QUEEN? Being a Beauty Queen like the ones in Libba Bray's new novel means being true to yourself and who you want to be. Tell us in 500 words or less what makes you a Beauty Queen, and you could win a $250 Amex Gift Card to use toward whatever makes you feel most awesome. Or you could opt for a $250 gift card to Sephora. Whatever you choose, we will also send you a signed copy of the book and your very own tiara!

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Open to legal US residents ages 13 to 18. Deadline to enter 5pm EST on July 1, 2011. Void where prohibited. For complete details and official rules go to

*You win all that good stuff, but a freaking tiara too! If I wasn't too old, I'd enter for a blinged out tiara!

Scholastic has also kindly offered up two (2) copies of Beauty Queens to you lovely readers

Open to US only
You do NOT need to be a follower to enter
Normal Contest Policy applies

Fill out THE FORM to enter


Briana said...

I have to admit, I'm not a big fan of Libba Bray. I just never connected with her writing. But this book sounds awesome. I'm definitely putting this on my wish list.

Jessy said...

I really enjoyed the quotes. They were really funny!

BrittLit said...

Hooray for Miss New Hampshire!!! It sucks that the names girls are a little difficult to keep straight in the beginning, but I'm glad you liked this one. I'll have to make sure to read it ASAP!

soulunsung said...

Haha. Months ago, when I first saw the cover for this book, I LOL immediately and desperately wanted to read this. Hilarious! And I do love Libba Bray, thank you for your wonderful review and for the giveaway! :)

Suz @ A Soul Unsung
Follow Me Friday + Blog Hop!

Bere said...

Wow, Beauty Queens seems kinda crazy but, fun at the same time. Fantastic review, Nikki. I love your favorite lines. This one doesn't seem like the type of book for me but I might check it out. I've been totally curious about Libba's Gemma Doyle series. Which I have not read but I'm looking forward to doing so. Again, fantastic review, Nikki, thank you! =D

Holly said...

Can't wait to read it! Loved reading Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle trilogy.

Nikki (Wicked Awesome Books) said...

Briana - This is my first Libba Bray book and I enjoyed it. I wasn't blown away or anything, but I was very happy with the level of humor Bray adds.

Jessy - Happy you liked the quotes I picked!

BrittLit - I was jumping up and down on the inside because not only does Miss NH survive, she's badass too boot. The girl is representing!

soulunsung - The cover is so freaking cool. It's definitely an eye-catcher and was what made me want to read it to begin with.

Bere - I've never read the Gemma Doyle series, but I'm pretty sure it's completely different from Beauty Queens. I don't think that series is satire at all, but historical ficiton/romance? If you do read it, I'm curious to hear your thoughts.

Holly - Good luck and enjoy the Gemma Doyle series!

Lily Child said...

I haven't read any of Bray's works, but I did pick this one up. I really hope I get into the humor and wit. Thanks for your review! :)

Lori said...

I tried Going Bovine years ago and didn't like it much. So I've been wary of this book, but you make me want to read it!!

~The Book Pixie said...

I've been debating for a while now whether or not I want to read this. While it sounds like it has its flaws, it also sounds like it has a lot going for it. That is too funny about David L. Evithan. I think we all know where that came from. lol. Thanks for the review Nikki. I do believe I will be giving this one a try now. :D


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