Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Review: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Tags: YA, satire, beauty pageants, conspiracy, feminism, sexuality


When a plane full of The Corporations teenage beauty queen contestants crash on a deserted island, the surviving girls must bond together to survive and keep up their pageant training. But even as the girls struggle to understand one another and themselves, the island holds secrets that The Corporation might be willing to kill to keep them hidden…


BEAUTY QUEENS cements Libba Bray as the spokesperson of the level of intelligence that can be accomplished in YA literature. Regardless if humor and satire are not your thing, you should read BEAUTY QUEENS, for it comments on just about everything that is troubling about our society.

BEAUTY QUEENS features an ensemble cast, so we end up learning about a dozen or so girls and rooting for even those whom we thought were initially annoying or dumb. Bray works with a lot of hot topics in her book: feminism, beauty pageants, advertising, LGBT, and female sexuality, just to name a few. She skillfully weaves all these dozens of issues into the personalities and worries of the girls, so that while many of them have hilariously over-the-top dumb lines, we know that there is more meant than what is being said.

Some books have trouble even fully exploring just one topic, let alone several dozen. Frankly, I don’t know how Libba does it, how she managed to keep track of all the characters and all the issues they deal with. Which is why BEAUTY QUEENS is clearly the work of a genius. While at times the ridiculousness of the girls’ predicament and what they encounter on the island (e.g., hallucinatory plants and an evil dictator whose talk reminded me of the Foosa leader from the movie Madagascar) made me shake my head in disbelief, I think everything works for the good of the main message: Libba Bray invites us to question what society tells us and what we typically blindly believe. Her over-the-top story forces us to confront our own passive acceptance of the way things are and encourages us to think for ourselves.

It’s hard to talk about the quality of characterization or pacing or world-building or any of those typical things one of my typical reviews would talk about. That’s because Libba has got those writing essentials in spades, and then she kind of throws them all aside and takes a giant risk. It’s succeeded: BEAUTY QUEENS has escaped the usual limitations of literature, particularly YA fiction, and broken new ground. With this as the new standard of intelligence to match, YA should never be the same again.

Similar Authors
Megan McCafferty (Bumped)
M. T. Anderson (Feed)

Cover discussion: How badass is that cover? Like the book, it's daring and satirical and bitingly funny.

Scholastic / May 24, 2011 / Hardcover / 400pp. / $18.99

Sent by publisher for review.


  1. I love Libba Bray and can't wait to read this! Great review.

  2. I cannot WAIT for this book! I've got a copy of it on its way to me and I absolutely adore Libba Bray. Love this review, Steph!

  3. fantastic review, i loved this one. i completely agree with what you said about how intelligent it was, and despite being risky, she totally pulled it off! Sparkle Ponies! =D

  4. Glad to hear this was such a worthwhile read! The cover definitely grabbed my attention, too -- how could it not? -- and I'm looking forward to reading soon!

  5. awesome review! excited to read this! =)

  6. I was absolutely enamored by this book for the first 3/4. But, by the end, it really lost steam for me, and I ended up skimming the rest of the book. But, most of it was really witty and intelligent. Great review!

  7. wonderful review. i was a bit on the fence with this one, but i will now be sure to give it a go.

    ~L (omphaloskepsis)

  8. I pretty much nodded my head throughout this entire review and agree with every single thing you wrote.

    Bray is a brilliant one for sure.

    I wish more YA was as brilliant.

  9. "Which is why BEAUTY QUEENS is clearly the work of a genius."

    A mad, evil genius that I bow before. It's definitely my favorite Bray book so far.

  10. Yay! I was already excited about this book, cause I love Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle books, but your review has me dying to read it even more!
    'YA should never be the same', wouldn't that be wonderful?

  11. Great review! I haven't read anything by Libba Bray yet but you just convinced me to add this one to my pile.

  12. "BEAUTY QUEENS has escaped the usual limitations of literature, particularly YA fiction, and broken new ground." I definitely want to read this now! Awesome review Steph :)

  13. Seriously. Amazing. Book. [sidebar; don't read it while on jury duty cause you WILL laugh out loud and people WILL look at you as though you're insane] Libba Bray is just... brilliant.

  14. This book truly is amazing and I think you are right that it sets a new standard for YA. :)

  15. I want this book more than a powdered donut.

  16. This book touches on a lot of the same obstacles that author and coach Vera Jones touches on and more in her motivational book "Play through the foul"

    You can also live chat with the author tomorrow June 21, at U-STREAM. DONT MISS OUT!!

  17. Midway through BQ now, and I'm definitely recommending it for any adults who don't think YA novels aren't intelligent or think they're not as good as "real" books. It's the perfect gateway book for YA doubters! Libba Bray is queen of satire.

  18. I really want to read this, I've heard it's hysterical, and I don't mind the harshness of satire, so I think this is one for me!

    Charmaine Smith (More Information on Delux Lodge Alaska Salmon Fishing)


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