Feb 8, 2012

Review: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Book cover of Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
Title: Beauty Queens [Amazon|GoodReads]
Author: Libba Bray [Website|Twitter|Facebook]
Standing: Stand alone novel.
Genre: Young Adult, Humor, Speculative Fiction
Published: May 24th, 2011 by Scholastic Press
Format: Audiobook; 14.5 hours.  Read by Libba Bray
Source: Borrowed from my local library.

According to the acknowledgements, David Levithan at one point says to Libba Bray, “A plane full of beauty queens crashes on a desert island and....go!”  And she did.  

Here’s a rough outline of what to expect from the audiobook of Beauty Queens: The girls of Drop Dead Gorgeous get plane-wrecked on an island containing an evil volcano lair and meet sexy reality T.V. pirates. Kind of awesome, huh?  

Let’s meet the (surviving) Miss Teen Dream contestants!

Miss New Hampshire:

Adina is working as an undercover investigative journalist bent on taking the pageant down and exposing it for the misogynistic racket it is.  She’s overly caustic, sarcastic, jaded, bitter, and full of contempt for Miss Teen Dream and the other girls.

Miss Nebraska:

Don’t be fooled by Mary Lou’s extreme Fargo accent (sorry Libba Bray, people from Nebraska do not talk like that.  Neither do people from Fargo for that matter...my cousins from Wisconsin kinda do...), she’s not just the country girl next door.  Mary Lou observes all the Midwest niceties, but deep down she’s a wild one longing for adventures as a pirate queen.

Miss Texas:

Taylor is Texan through and through, and she takes her Miss Teen Dream seriously.  Deadly seriously.  She insists on continuing pageant prep, non-offensive language, chipper can-do attitudes, and no shenanigans.  There’s always been a Miss Texas in the Top 10, and Taylor plans to go all the way.

Miss Colorado:

Nicole is a pre-pre med student in it to place and garner some scholarship money.  Let’s face it, Nicole is black, and the only African American woman to ever win Miss Team Dream went down in shame.  It’s not likely to happen again.  

Miss California:

Shanti is fighting Nicole for the minority vote, presenting her case as the well-adjusted child of Indian immigrants.  She knows how to make papadon in the tradition of her grandmother, she has charming stories about her parents, her talent is traditional Indian dance.  And she hates when you call her “Bollywood”.  

Miss Michigan:

Jennifer is a juvie-turned-beauty-queen project of her guidance counsellor, and Miss Teen Dream is supposed to set her on a better path.  Jennifer is our mechanically inclined, comic-book loving lesbian, whose personal motto is: WWWWD?  What Would Wonder Woman Do?

Miss Illinois:

Sossi gets the handicapped vote for being hearing impaired (though she’s annoyed that people won’t just up and say ‘deaf’).  She is amazeballs because she started an all-hearing impaired dance troupe named Helen Kellerbration.  Puns may make terrible jokes, but they make fantastic group/team/roller derby names.

Miss Rhode Island:

Petra is the tall, big-handed, hormonally challenged secretive girl from the Northeast.  She knows every lyric to every Boys Will Be Boys song, has a heart of gold and patience to boot.  As a nearly 6’ girl myself, I find the insinuations that Petra is “big” to be a bit insulting, but yes, finding size 11 heals that don’t look like ass is hard.  

Miss Mississippi:

Tiara may not be able to spell Mississippi (or douche), but she represents with pride.  She’s the sweet resident ditz, who’s not nearly as dumb as she comes off (some of the time), and depending on your opinion of kittens you will either want to put her in your pocket or see her drown.

Miss Alabama:

Essentially, Brittani is Tiara’s twin, though she seems slightly more intelligent.  Also, non-essentially, she’s more-or-less a filler character.  So let’s address the other fillers while we’re at it:

Miss Arkansas, Miss New Mexico, Miss Ohio, and Miss Montana:

They’re just here for the show people.  They’re the group of friends whose experience on the island we don’t much acknowledge.  Oh and Miss New Mexico has a tray stuck in her forehead.

Looking for a rep of another state?  Too bad, they’re dead.  Check the floating bodies in the water or the frying ones in the plane fire.  Let’s get on with the story...

Up front, these beauty queens are pretty easy to pass off as a largely unlikable bunch.  Adina, and Taylor in particular, as the two extremes of pageantry garner the least sympathies.  However, as the story draws on, it’s easy to see that there is much more to these young women.  Each of them has entered for her own reasons, presenting us with a myriad of bad stereotypes and heartwarming truisms.  This book held an interesting dynamic for me, as I am not sure that the characters grew as much as I did while reading about them.  The girls certainly did change and come into their own, but my initial opinions of each of them changed more than they actually did  as I got to know them.  At the end of the book, there wasn’t a one of them I wasn’t rooting for, and luckily Beauty Queens wraps up with an awesome 80s-style flash-forward montage where we get to see how the girls grow up.

This book especially shined in its audiobook form, read by the author herself evoking the spirit of Effie Trinket.  Libba Bray was excellent at the accents (with the exception of the aforementioned Miss Nebraska, but a villain who talks like Dexter from Dexter’s Laboratory more than made up for this), and voices were done in a way that made the speaker instantly identifiable despite the amount of characters.  The footnotes had the fun chime of an airplane announcement, and the commercial interruptions came with fitting music.  I find the use of footnotes in general to be annoying, but the chime certainly helped, and I tend to overuse parenthesis, so who am I to talk?  Besides, there was this:

Footnote 50: Really, being a librarian is a much more dangerous job than you realize.

That said, Beauty Queens was positively dripping in satire.  I was torn between just enjoying the ride, and feeling I needed to think about what was being said with the thick and abundant placement of “The Corporation”.  In the end, I’m left wondering if Bray was really trying to say something with this book, or if it was all in good fun and just a laugh.  I truly believe I would have enjoyed this book more as a teen myself, when I was myself every bit as caustic and sarcastic as Adina (okay, so I still am, but I think I’m less jaded now).  

In the end, I felt that Beauty Queens had all of the quirkiness of a Bryan Fuller show without the charm.  It's a whole new world of pretty, people.

Likelihood that I'll be back for more: 100%.  Libba Bray’s upcoming book, The Diviners was on my Top Ten list of books I’m looking forward to reading in 2011.  I’m wondering which Libba Bray we’ll see here, the Going Bovine/Beauty Queens Libba Bray, or the Gemma Doyle Libba Bray.  Personally, I am hoping that she is able to find a happy medium between the two, and given the setting of the 1920s and promised ridiculousness, I’m thinking it just might be possible.

Recommended for:  People who like their satire laid on thick, or those who might enjoy a literary mocumentary. People who enjoyed Going Bovine.

Real life repercussions of reading this book:  The repeated use of the phrase “Beauty is pain.” gave me some horrible flashbacks to my childhood babysitter who used to say this as she French braided my unruly curly hair so tight I cried.


  1. I have never read anything by Libba Bray. I wasn't really interested in the "type" of books that she wrote but this book sounds pretty quirky. I think I might pick it up!

    1. I liked Going Bovine a bit better than this one, and it was very quirky as well. Both books are completely different than the Gemma Doyle series, if that's what turned you off of her.

  2. I love her Gemma Doyle series and I have heard that fans of that series find it really hard to get into this one. I'm not going to lie, I was intrigued by this book when it came out, but just couldn't bring myself to buy it. Maybe I'll borrow it because I adore Libba Bray.

    1. Yes, this book is completely different from Gemma Doyle, so I can understand how readers expecting something similar would be disappointed. It's really quirky and fun though, I'd say borrow it from the library, especially if they have the audiobook, and give it a shot!

  3. I keep meaning to give LB's Gemma Doyle series another try sometime--I think audiobook may be the way to go with this author for me, given how fun this sounds! Great (and very fun) review. Alas, beauty IS pain sometimes.


    Australian YA author Rebecca shares her favorite romantic book scene at The Midnight Garden!

    1. This was a great audiobook, and I'm really not sure that I would have gotten through the physical book--it may indeed be the right route. I liked Gemma Doyle a lot, but I didn't love it, and I can understand how people either love it or are turned off.

  4. I love this review! You said it all far better than I did. It was really hard to take everything that happened in the novel and summarize it for a review. Who was your favorite of the beauty queens? I loved Mary Lou! And Miss Michigan.

    1. Thanks! It was hard to cover everything, it was so out there with all of its characters and everything that happens. I loved Mary Lou the best too! I also really liked Petra.

  5. Wow, really nice breakdown of all the characters! Before this review I had no interest in this one, but now I do! But, did you mean "plane-wrecked" and "evil volcano lair"? I got a bit confused by that one sentence.

    1. Yes, yes I did. Apparently I cannot spell. Wee bit embarrassing. Thanks! :P

  6. I read this in print form and definitely enjoyed it, but your description of the audio book and the chimes and the Dexter's Lab voice has me totally wanting to re-read via audiobook. Funny how that happens! I bet it would be a whole new cool way to experience Beauty Queens.

    I loved all the satire elements. Also? Taylor. LOVED HER. And she's the one I thought I would hate the most.

    1. This was a really awesome audiobook, you'd love it! I DID hate Taylor for probably the first half of the book, and then she got totally awesome.


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