book thoughts: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray (2011)


The plot of Beauty Queens sounds very simple on the surface: a plane full of teen beauty pageant contestants crash lands on a deserted island and must work together to survive.  This could easily have just been an over-the-top comedy or book of catfights, but Bray uses her amazing skills as a story teller to turn this book in to so much more, using her sharp wit as a weapon to fight the battle for young girl’s minds.
A small group of Miss Teen Dream contestants survive the plane crash and find themselves without their coaches, parents, or Corporation products, stranded on an island.  Miss Texas takes charge and attempts to organize the group.  She’s a hardcore pageant girl and even after the crash, she has her eyes on the prize.  Mixed in with the survivors is Miss New Hampshire, Adina.  She is a journalist at her high school and signed up for the pageant as part of an elaborate scheme to expose it for the shallow, sexist event that it is.  As the book goes on, we begin to discover the secrets and dreams of all the other girls on the island.  None of them are just “pretty girls”.  Each of them has a life and decisions that has brought them to this point.  And they will have to find their strength to survive what the island is about to throw at them.
I don’t want to give to much away as this book was full of lots of wonderful surprises.  At times, I found myself laughing out loud as Bray poked fun at our materialistic and beauty obsessed culture…though beneath that laugh was the sadness of how much damage has been done to women when it comes to this constant judgment put upon them.  Other times, I found myself overwhelmed by the message of the book – the idea that young girls can work together, that young girls should take pride in every part of themselves, embrace their minds and bodies and be happy.  It’s a hard lesson that many of us still struggle to remind ourselves of every day.

Beauty Queens is an intelligent and fun read that went beyond my expectations (though I don’t know why I was surprised, Bray’s Going Bovine was one of my favorite books from 2009).  Due to some of the content of the book, I would recommend this for readers 16 years and up.  But I highly recommend getting this book into the hands of any young woman you want to learn to think outside the box and question what is sold to them on a daily basis.  Bray’s book is about acceptance – accepting yourself and accepting other.  About separating what is sold to us with what we actually need to be happy. 

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