Penny's Reviews > Beauty Queens

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
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May 31, 11

bookshelves: check-your-brain-at-the-door, chick-lit, disappointing, grrrl-power, pirates, reviewed-books, ya-fiction
Read from May 24 to 27, 2011

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, mix the plots from Drop Dead Gorgeous, Austin Powers, Mean Girls, Lost, and Lord of the Flies. Whip until nice and fluffy. Stir in equal parts Bollywood, Boy Bands, Pirates, An Evil Corporation, Crappy Parenting, Reality TV, Miss Teen USA pageants, and commercials aimed at teens. Next add 4 cups Teenage Sexuality (all types), 2 cups Feminism, 1/2 cup Identity Issues, 1/2 cup Self-Esteem Issues, 16-Teenage Beauty Queens (all types. Just make sure one is much more intelligent then the others), a handful of henchmen, a handful of open-minded hot guys with British accents, one hot eco-"terrorist", one crazy-go-nuts dictator, copious amounts of satire, and 1-20 oz. bag of Sarah Palin. Stir until well blended. Batter will be slightly lumpy. Pour into cupcake pans (cuz cupcakes are all the rage, yo!) Bake for: 35 minutes. Let cool.

Frosting: Mix equal parts Sunshine, Love, World Peace, Sparkle Ponies, Sequined Dresses, Cute Shoes, Makeup, GRRRRRRRRRL POWER! a handful of sand, one Lesbian makeout session, and one Sex Tape. Whip until creamy.

Frost cupcakes then sprinkle with way too many unnecessary footnotes. Top each cupcake with a maraschino cherry that has been laced with an organic hallucinogen.

Take those cupcakes and dumb them down.


Dumb them down again.


A little more...


One more time...


STOP!

Okay, there you have it: the recipe for Libba Bray's Beauty Queens (in cupcake form). Enjoy!

2.5 stars. Real review to be posted after the weekend.

---

I spent the weekend thinking about what I would say in this review, how I would explain my beef with this book. I want to make it clear, I don't hate Beauty Queens, nor do I like it.

It was okay, overall. I mean, sure, it did have it's moments. Not that Beauty Queens caused me to laugh out loud--because it didn't, especially not after the novelty of the "helpful" footnotes and commercial parodies wore off. They were fun for the first few chapters, then they became an irritation.

Also, I don't particularly care for Libba Bray's brand of satire. At times it was so overdone it only inspired sighs of frustration, eye-rolling and thoughts of, "that would have been funny if" or "that could have been more powerful if" from me. I felt as though I was watching one of those really bad (read: not funny) movie parodies, like Dance Flick, or Epic Movie.

Yes, at times Beauty Queens is that much of a punishment, and then some.

But that's not the worst part. My major problem has to do with the fact that Bray's story had a great foundation. I mean, just read this:

“I’ve been thinking about that book about the boys who crash on an island,” Mary Lou said to Adina one afternoon as they rested on their elbows taking bites from the same papaya.

“Lord of the Flies. What about it?”

You know how you said it wasn’t a true measure of humanity because there were no girls and you wondered how it would be different if there had been girls?”

“Yeah?”

“Maybe girls need an island to find themselves. Maybe they need a place where no one’s watching them so they can be who they really are.”

There was something about the island that made the girls forget who they had been. All those rules and shalt nots. They were no longer waiting for some arbitrary grade. They were no longer performing. Waiting. Hoping.

They were becoming.

They were.


Sure, it's all a little contrived, but still it's a great jumping off point. Instead of doing anything worthwhile with it, Bray took that idea and made it into a Very Special Episode of The Facts of Life, except way more condescending and a ba-zillion times more preachier--it's not like the main message Bray is pummeling her audience with is new. Girlfriend is preaching to the choir the entire time. And at no point does this book challenge one to think. Beauty Queens thinks for you, because thinking is hard, y'all.

You wanna sell me on something? Give me a chance to think for myself. Show me both sides of the argument. Present me with questions that don't necessarily have an easy answer. Let me draw my own conclusions. Don't incessantly beat me upside my head with your answers, your way of thinking. See, when that happens I tend to lose interest in what you have to say--even if I happen to agree with you--because you clearly think you're superior, that I'm not intelligent enough to come to the right (read: your) conclusion. Do. Not. Like.

And don't even think of telling me that some teenage girls need a book to do their thinking for them, that they need to be force fed the messages contained within Beauty Queens because their parents, their peers, the media has damaged them, tricked them into thinking otherwise. Even if that is the case with some teenage girls, I fail to see how shoving a message down their collective throats--be it negative or positive--is the way to go about building up self esteem, or fixing identity issues.

Moving on...

I don't fault Libba Bray for wanting to make this book funny, because Beauty Queens would have bombed royally had it taken itself too seriously. But like I said earlier, she took the satire, the tongue-in-cheekiness, way too far. Beauty Queens is obnoxious. Beauty Queens is that know-it-all girl that you sort of want to punch in the face because she isn't as clever as she thinks she is; someone ought to bring her down a few notches.

Anyway, because of Bray's lack of control every character has been reduced to a cardboard cut-out of a stereotype. Beauty Queens has two really stupid blondes from the south, a really slutty girl from the midwest, a super sexually repressed girl from the upper-midwest, two minorities, a crazy pageant-head from Texas, A stereotypical lesbian, and a girl who is hearing impaired. Even Ms New Hampshire--whom, might I add, is this story's Marysue--is feminist to a fault, goes around feeling superior to the other girls on the island because she's "enlightened" and they're just a bunch of "stupid fools".

There were a few others who had even less going for them. Ms New Mexico, for example, had a tray table embedded in her skull. That was her only defining quality throughout the entire book. I kid you not. *headdesk*

The only character that I found interesting, that had any sort of depth, was Ms Rhode Island. (view spoiler) She's the only character I truly liked; seemed to have her crap together. She's probably the only reason anyone should read this book. Really. The rest of the ladies? Were really irritating and irrational and totally rubbed me the wrong way--go figure.

You know how every chick flick has at least one painfully ridiculous cringe-worthy scene? The sort of scene that makes you wonder how stupid Hollywood thinks women are. The sort of scene that makes you vow to never see another chick flick again, like that random musical number with synchronized dance moves in My Best Friend's Wedding. Or the 'Bend and Snap' scene from Legally Blonde. Or the entire length of the movie Mama Mia? Yeah, this book has that. It ENDS with one of those scenes.

Read this book or not. It's totally up to you. I didn't like it, clearly, but I'm not pleased with a lot of books these days.

P.S. Why is it books meant to inspire and empower women to be proud of who we are, to stop aiming for an an unattainable level of perfection in the looks/weight/personality department, always have MCs that fall in love with men who are perfect in every way? Like, especially their bodies are super beautiful, and the MC can't shut up about how physically beautiful her love interest is. How come female MCs don't fall in love with guys who have great personalities but are lacking in the looks department? Why can't it just be about a meeting of minds? Why do looks ALWAYS play a part in books written for a female audience? Especially when we go around telling ourselves that looks shouldn't matter, to anyone (especially men). Isn't that more than a little hypocritical?

Oh, yeah, I forgot. No one wants to read about ugly people falling in love. At least one of them (*cough* the guy *cough*) has to be super hot.


P.P.S. I'll have you know, starting when I was 12 years old my parents sent me to a girls camp in Colorado--five summers in a row. No electricity. No cabins. No toilets or showers or mirrors. No boys. Just a bunch of girls forced to sleep in tents with a bunch of other girls their same age. Wanna guess what THAT was like? Hell on earth. Friggin' WWIII broke out every single year! I hated it. Adolescent girls are mean. Like, ridiculously mean, especially when civilization isn't present. You think Lord of the Flies is insane? Take those boys and replace them with teen girls and you'll have a massacre on your hands. At the very least there would be a few violent cat fights. I'm just sayin'.
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Reading Progress

05/24/2011
20.0% "Fun & interesting idea, but I'm already taking a break because the stereotypes are blackening my eyes. I'm sure there is a good reason for this, that Bray is doing it to make a point, and in the end I'll be all, "This book is brilliant! Everyone must buy a copy now". But so far Beauty Queens sort of offensive in it's (purposeful...?) simplicity. *whispers* Tina Fey would have done it better." 1 comment
05/25/2011
60.0% "I said it once and I'll say it again: Tina Fey would have done this better. Infinitely better. Look, I know I'm not done with this book. But I can tell you now, unless this book stops being so preachy, or actually forces me to think at some point, it's only getting 3 stars. Tops."
05/26/2011
80.0% "I want to douse this book in gasoline and set it alight. I think my feelings are intensified by how much I know this retarded piece of dog crap is going to be praised all over the internets b/c it's "feminist 'n' stuff". Last I checked Feminism wasn't about proving women were BETTER then men. I feel like Bray is trying to brainwash me here. Plus, the footnotes and commercial breaks make me wanna punch a baby."

Comments (showing 1-48)




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message 48: by Tatiana (new) - added it

Tatiana I'll pass.

Have you read Bumped yet BTW? Reading reviews of these two books leads me to believe satire might just not be my cup of tea...


message 47: by Flannery (new) - added it

Flannery Somehow I didn't see your last update for the book. I just laughed out loud about it. (the setting it on fire bit)

I'm with Brian, Penny. How can you improve something that is already so awesome?


Jackie "the Librarian" But that review makes me want to read it SO BAD! :)


message 45: by Michelle (new) - added it

Michelle Witte I'm with Jackie. I often like over-the-top satire. But excellent review either way.


message 44: by Cory (new)

Cory Not another psuedo-feminist book like Graceling.


message 43: by Kelli (new)

Kelli Lee I haven't read this yet, but I must say, I love, love, love your review.


Lindsay Hunter This is so accurate! I'm so glad somebody else though she overdid it just a little, I mean, she covered every single cliche you could think of!!


message 41: by Lucy (new)

Lucy Great review. I'm having major issues with this book too.


Amelia, the pragmatic idealist Lol, as soon as I heard the plot for this book, I thought "girls stuck on a beach? There's going to be some kind of lesbian issue." not that there's anything wrong with that (shameless Seinfeld quip) but it just seems like the kind of thing that's thrown in just for the shock factor. Which pretty much sums up Libba Brays writing, IMO.
Loved your recipe! Bobby Flay himself couldn't come up with something like that.


message 39: by Gloria (new)

Gloria Mundi You can tell it's one of those books just from the quote you gave. The ones that feel they have to spell out the message, in case you are too dumb to figure it out on your own. Great review. I hate that scene in Legally Blond as well.


message 38: by Beth (new) - rated it 2 stars

Beth You nailed it...except you need to add a couple more cups of feminism...and I'm not sure Sarah Palin is the "bag" you need...I'm not sure who Ladybird reminds me of...but it will come to me.


April I wondered if I was being too harsh on Bray in my review. Nope! Glad to see I'm not alone!


message 36: by Jen (last edited Jun 20, 2011 04:46AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Jen You wanna sell me on something? Give me a chance to think for myself. Show me both sides of the argument. Present me with questions that don't necessarily have an easy answer. Let me draw my own conclusions. Don't incessantly beat me upside my head with your answers, your way of thinking. See, when that happens I tend to lose interest in what you have to say--even if I happen to agree with you--because you clearly think you're superior, that I'm not intelligent enough to come to the right (read: your) conclusion. Do. Not. Like.

And don't even think of telling me that some teenage girls need a book to do their thinking for them, that they need to be force fed the messages contained within Beauty Queens because their parents, their peers, the media has damaged them, tricked them into thinking otherwise. Even if that is the case with some teenage girls, I fail to see how shoving a message down their collective throats--be it negative or positive--is the way to go about building up self esteem, or fixing identity issues.


Well said.


message 35: by Jami (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jami May I use your review on a blog to describe Beauty Queens. I think the recipe is really well done.


message 34: by trivialchemy (new)

trivialchemy Outfuckingstanding review, I loved it. Not that I ever had any intention of reading this book, but now it's cemented.

In one of those strange circuits of coincidence, I saw that scene from "Legally Blonde" for the first time on Youtube this evening. I must have clicked on it from facebook or something, and been trying to figure out what it was. Needless to say, I was horrified. I was left with very little faith in humanity.


message 33: by David (new)

David amazingly entertaining review.. who needs book?


Laurel I recently read this book, and was so disappointed in it. I thought about writing a review, but it turns out there's no need, as yours is more wonderfully written than anything I could come up with and describes my feelings perfectly! Your review is a better read than the book was. If only I'd come across it first.


message 31: by LJ (new) - rated it 4 stars

LJ I loved the book! It's satire in the extreme. Don't discount it yet, those of you who haven't read it.


message 30: by Jesi (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jesi Have to say, even though I thought it was a wonderful book, I very much enjoyed your review - especially because I also think your review is very true. :)


Chibineko This review is spot on so far. I agree that there's too much of an emphasis on beauty sometimes, but this book is so heavy handed on the "anything beauty related is ebil and only inner beauty counts, you're so shallow for wanting to look good" message. Unless our main character Adina does a little changing by the end of the book I think I want to nominate her for the least likable YA main character of 2011. I'm also irritated that the book never seems to allow any of the characters (or the reader for that matter) to make their own decisions on beauty, beauty contests, or whatnot. It's so one sided that it's pretty annoying. This satire might work in a visual sense (like a movie) but it just doesn't work as well in a book form. Or maybe I'm just a little peeved that Bray's book seems to be saying that admiring the pageant queens and liking to get makeovers is shallow and that I can't find self actualization unless I'm attending college & studying to become the next Marie Curie.

/rant mode off


Cassy I like Libba Bray, I do. Her blog is one of the most hysterical things I've ever had the pleasure of reading. But, for some reason, that humor just never translates to her books. I recently read Going Bovine and kind of was left with that same half impressed feeling. And she didn't leave much up to the imagination there either. I read Bray's books in the hopes that they'll live up to my expectations. I know she has SO much potential but whenever she has to put that potential into a book, she chokes.


message 27: by C (new) - rated it 2 stars

C I agree so completely. I was excited for this book (I actually enjoyed Going Bovine well enough), but the satire was heavy-handed and the message was pre-determined. It's like you said, she's just preaching to the choir. Moreover, all of the characters seemed to be in place just to hand you the message and make you laugh, and they were all so shallow or clearly GOOD! that I kind of got fed up with them.

When I heard this book was coming out, I actually thought it was going to be a satire just on Beauty Pageants, and I kind of wish she'd gone with that angle instead of the "get trapped on an island" one (even though it invites some interesting Lord of the Flies comparisons). It might have given this book some grounding that it lacks.


Brooke Watson I mostly agree. That last scene reminded me of my daughter's Barbie movies. They always end like that. The humor wore off for me, too. I stopped reading all the footnotes. I wish Bray would just go back to fantasy writing and cut the humor stuff!


message 25: by Joani (new) - added it

Joani I was going to write a review for this book, but then I read yours and realized I had nothing more to add. You put my feelings into words exactly. The only thing I would potentially add is my huge sense of disappointment with Bray, because I truly do respect her and her writings. Beauty Queens had a great premise, such promise, but unfortunately was sheer (and poorly written) propaganda in the end.


Carolyn F. Amen Penny!


Nina Gayle What a creative, insightful review!


message 22: by Kate (new) - rated it 2 stars

Kate love your review.....you nailed it!


Kelly Aley The only thing lacking in your review was Bray's overuse of the word 'snarked' as a verb. Ridiculous. You get one use in a book, so you better make if good. I thought the Sarah Palin thing was too obvious and all of the stereotyping ridiculous.


Wendy Yep. I enjoyed the book, but you sure nailed what keeps it from living up to its potential.


message 19: by Jan (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jan Without a doubt the best review I've seen of this book.


Jayme I enjoyed reading your mixing and baking sections.... haven't read the review though because I'm still reading said book :o)


Catherine Cassy wrote: "I like Libba Bray, I do. Her blog is one of the most hysterical things I've ever had the pleasure of reading. But, for some reason, that humor just never translates to her books. I recently read..."

C wrote: "I agree so completely. I was excited for this book (I actually enjoyed Going Bovine well enough), but the satire was heavy-handed and the message was pre-determined. It's like you said, she's just ..."

@ C and Cassy - I met Libba Bray and follow her blog: she is amazing. So this book did not necessarily cut it for some people. Well not every likes Fitzgerald or Chopin.


message 16: by Brianna (new)

Brianna This review is VERY true. If the book had 80% less satire, it'd be so much better. It's a somewhat confusing book, while promoting feminist values heavily it still has dreamy boys who help save the day.

And what's wrong with a little primping? Adina acts like it's setting back women's rights 30 years when some people simply do it for themselves. Beauty pageants can be exploitations of young girls but the animosity felt towards them is strange.

Anyways I loved how she handled Petra and Jennifer, with few judgements. Though the stereotypes are taken too far. I for one have lived in Texas for some years now and I've yet to meet someone anything like Miss. Texas. And a lesbian who can fix things, finds all hot women hot, etc is -.- And the Bisexual, oops I'm straight but I will make out with girls, D'oh I'm confused! *Sigh* At least I like Petra, Nicole and Shantis' friendship and strangely enough, Tiara.


Claire Great review! LOVED the cupcake part :)


message 14: by Kazzmatazz (new) - added it

Kazzmatazz Weirdly enough, your snark echoes the book. I definitely agree that, at times, it felt like someone was holding my mouth open and cramming satire down my throat - just like Dance Flick and Vampires Suck and all of those. However, as much as it was overdone on occasion, I felt like that was a significant part of a point that Bray was trying to make about targeted media that is painfully dumbed down.
I didn't really get the "women are better than men" vibe you're talking about either, but maybe it's because I really enjoyed Harris the Misunderestimated getting hair-sprayed in the face. Not because he's a guy. Because he's an asshole.


Susanna You seem to miss the point that this book is a SATIRE. Go read Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris.


Penny @Susanna: you seemed to miss the three separate occasions I actually refer to the fact that Beauty Queens is a satire. Clearly it is, I'm not a fool. But like I said in this review I don't care for Libba Bray's brand of satire. The way Bray went about it grated on my nerves more often than not. Perhaps if Bray had it in her to be more clever in her delivery, not so ridiculously hamfisted, I would have appreciated it far more. I don't enjoy being pummeled by 'teh lulz' when they aren't particularly well crafted or well delivered to begin with.

I still think Tina Fey would have done it so mych better. Libba Bray just isn't funny enough to pull off satire, but that's just my opinion.


Kate  Maxwell Love the recipe at the beginning! Perfect!


Anita I started this book because its from Libba Gray, hoping for a light, funny story. But your recipe descibes exactly how I feel after a few chapters! Ughh, I thought if I read anymore I would start needing explantaion for every single thing I read.


message 9: by Lyn (new) - added it

Lyn I had decided to pass on this one a while back, but quite enjoyed your review. Loved the recipe at the beginning.


Chelsea Your recipe is WAY off.

If you put cupcakes in the oven for 35 minutes, they'll burn! You need more like 18-20 minutes. =)


Sharon Wow. I wish I would have said that. Review is so on target.


rachel wow somebody that gets that this book was just what u said


message 5: by Ramya (new)

Ramya I have not read the book yet, but I can confidently say that your review was better than the book! :)


Julie This is one of my favorites for all the reasons you hated it. ;) IMO, "A Modest Proposal," baby-eating, cover every cliche you can, over the top is the only way to do satire... ;)


message 3: by Bynz (last edited Apr 04, 2015 11:31PM) (new) - added it

Bynz Actually, as I was reading the recipe, I thought that it sounds super-complicated and one that'd require a lot of skill! Now if the end-product weren't to be satire, it could indeed be over-the-top but like the last comment above says, it's precisely the way to go with satire, isn't? (Ironically, like your own recipe/review... that's satirizing the book. Was that a conscious decision to emulate the book, BTW?)

Anyway, the fact that feminism has actually been thrown into the recipe to indicate it would make bad books means I'll be guaranteed to atleast like the book! :P I came over to GoodReads to glaze over a few reviews to see if I'll be wasting my time, esp. if the writing is peppered with microaggressions, but if her blog is any measure to go by, internalized sexist scenes will be at a minimum and she won't be shaming closeted LGBTQ characters for living a 'lie' that society forces them into. The lack of proportionate POC characters is disappointing though. Anyway, onwards to the book now.


message 2: by Bynz (last edited Apr 05, 2015 01:06AM) (new) - added it

Bynz "How come female MCs don't fall in love with guys who have great personalities but are lacking in the looks department?"

Perhaps to balance the countless number of books and media where the awkward, average-looking Nice Guy(TM) always gets the bombshell.


message 1: by Isabella (new)

Isabella Beauty Queens is that know-it-all girl that you sort of want to punch in the face because she isn't as clever as she thinks she is Oooh I hate that girl


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