06 June 2011

Review: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

What would happen if a planeload of Teen Dream Beauty Queen contestants were to crash on a deserted island, killing all the adults and leaving only a handful of girls to attempt to survive on their own? Libba Bray's Beauty Queens starts with that question and tells a hilarious story of girl power peppered with social commentary and clever spoofs on pop culture, television, and classic books.

Beauty Queens is a multilayered novel. On one level, it's Clueless meets Lost, and fans of either the movie or the series will find much to laugh about. It's also a fun look at reality TV from the way the girls almost immediately divide into teams to what happens when they meet the boys-gone-rogue stars of a reality pirate series.

Readers will also make comparisons to Lord of the Flies and the more recent The Beach, among other novels about isolated groups and what happens when randomly formed sets of people attempt to self-govern. Throughout the book, the girls make references to all kinds of novels as well as to popular TV shows and contemporary music. Furthermore, Bray doesn't shy away from American politics--and especially a certain conservative woman wannabe contender. It's likely you won't recognize every single reference, but you'll be laughing at the ones you do.

At the heart of Beauty Queens, however, is the transformation of the teens from focusing on pleasing their parents (or guardians) and playing up to the beauty contest judges to embracing their true selves and learning to accept their peers, who may hold different beliefs and may make different choices. In the cast of the surviving beauty queens, every reader will find one or two girls to whom she can relate. Two of my favorite characters are Miss Texas, a gun-toting, take-charge homecoming queen, and Miss New Hampshire, a feminist undercover journalist for her high-school paper.

Although some readers may find the teens to be stereotypical, Bray makes no apologies for her over-the-top, campy characterizations. The teen beauty queens are there to make a point: It's okay to be who you are, and hiding your personality and desires to fit the mold of broader society is not the only choice. Thanks to Bray's fast-moving, crazy plot, the lessons are easy to take and never preachy.

If you can, experience Beauty Queens via the unabridged audio edition (Scholastic, 14 hr, 34 min). The book is narrated by author Libba Bray, whose theatrical training shines throughout the audio production. She does such a fantastic job that you'll soon forget the entire book is read by only one person: The accents and characterizations are perfectly and consistently played. The audiobook ends with an author note and some of the behind-the-scenes history of the novel. Truly, this is an audiobook not to be missed.

Give it to me quickly: Clueless meets Lost; a brilliantly crafted tale of girl power, social commentary, and hilarious spoof on popular TV shows and classic books.

Beauty Queens at Powell's
Beauty Queens at Book Depository
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Published by Scholastic, 2011
ISBN-13: 9780439895972
YTD: 52
Source: Borrowed (see review policy).
Rating: A+ (based on audio production)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


Just Mom 6/6/11, 7:29 AM  

Great review! I have been curious about this one - the cover is so attention getting. Glad to hear it is a good read as well.

Peppermint Ph.D. 6/6/11, 7:50 AM  

Not a fan of the whole beauty queen scene so I haven't paid much attention to it...you're review has me curious though so I'm adding it to my TBR...I love the idea of these young women discovering their true "selves" :)

Sheila (Bookjourney) 6/6/11, 8:32 AM  

I would have never picked this up... title... cover.... but now that you have chatted it up (I love LOST!) I am interested.... and when you say audio.... I am sold! :)

Anonymous,  6/6/11, 9:06 AM  

I think this one sounds cute and I love Clueless. Sort of reminds me of that Sandra Bullock movie Miss Congeniality in showing behind the scenes pageant personalities. :-)

I'll be looking for the audio I think. Thanks for sharing!

Meg @ A Bookish Affair 6/6/11, 9:17 AM  

I'm really beginning to think that I need to pick this book up!

Zibilee 6/6/11, 9:53 AM  

Judging on the cover and title alone, I would have said this is a book that I would never read. but your review piques my interest and makes me think that I might really enjoy this book. I think it has a rather interesting premise, and it sounds like it was executed very well also. Great review Beth! I am adding this one to my list right now!

Andi 6/6/11, 9:58 AM  

I'm on the fence about reading this one. The Lord of the Flies connection was the first one to pop into my mind since my 14-year-old stepdaughter is reading it this summer. While I enjoy campy, I also have an immediate and very visceral reaction to any book I consider too "Hollywoody." I just feel like there's a glaze of unpleasantness on books that discuss reality TV too much, characters who are "stars," etc. In that way, this one probably wouldn't work for me, but then again, I always *want* to give Bray's odder stuff a chance.

Julie P. 6/6/11, 10:38 AM  

This book was a hoot and I bet it was amazing on audio!

Audra 6/6/11, 2:04 PM  

I was totally going to pass on this one as I hated Lord of the Flies (and John Dollar) but your description of the audio version has me very intrigued -- it sounds like it could a hilarious listen -- and I've got some long flights ahead of me!

bermudaonion 6/6/11, 2:09 PM  

I have this in print so probably won't listen to the audio, but you've made it sound like a gem.

Anonymous,  6/6/11, 4:26 PM  

And would that be Miss Texas on the awesome cover?

Beth F 6/6/11, 4:32 PM  

@Softdrink: why, yes, yes it would.

Meghan 6/6/11, 4:53 PM  

I haven't been too sure of this one yet but I think you may have just sold me on it. The combination of Clueless and Lost is oddly appealing and I like that the girls find out that it's okay to be themselves in the midst of all that.

Carrie K. 6/6/11, 7:50 PM  

I really want to read this one, but my library doesn't have it in print or on audio yet. :(

Jenners 6/6/11, 8:59 PM  

Sounds fun ... and it doesn't seem like a book that takes itself too seriously, which I like.

Cass 6/6/11, 9:01 PM  

Glad to hear the narration is so good! I can't wait to read this.

Beth S. 6/6/11, 10:32 PM  

Oooh! I've been wanting to read this one but maybe I'll listen to it instead! I love hearing Libba Bray speak so I think I'd love the audiobook!

Nise' 6/6/11, 10:52 PM  

I just got this one in print. Now what am I going to do? I know, request the audio from the library.

Robin M 6/8/11, 9:28 PM  

Cover is what catches my attention.

Meg @ write meg! 6/9/11, 10:32 AM  

So glad to hear you really enjoyed this one! The cover alone caught my attention, and I'm looking forward to picking it up soon.

Jen - devourer of books 6/9/11, 3:57 PM  

This sounds amazing, I must listen!

Unknown 6/10/11, 3:21 PM  

I can't pass up a recommendation for a great audio book! I've just requested it from my library and can't wait for it to become available.

Swapna 6/11/11, 10:11 AM  

I wouldn't normally be interested in this book, but your Twitter statements about it have me convinced! I'm definitely going to give it a try on audio.

Lenore Appelhans 6/13/11, 6:34 PM  

Whenever I talk about audio books now, I mention that you told me how much you loved this audio book!

Alice 6/28/11, 9:42 AM  

It sure sounds like the audiobook is the way to go for this one. The narrator sounds awesome. I've read another review of this book and what fun!

FrenesiG,  6/30/11, 4:29 PM  

Reading it now and love it! Satire with true bite, and truly hilarious.

Michelle 7/2/11, 9:08 AM  

You totally hooked me up on this one! I'd started to read it in print (and put it down after several chapters in frustration) but your encouragement to listen to it on audio allowed me to give it another try. I really did like Bray's narration (I like it when the characters have different personalities and voices) and though the story got a bit tedious at the end I liked it quite a lot.

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