Amanda's Reviews > Beauty Queens

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
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Nov 26, 11

bookshelves: young-adult, meh, blog, cover-better-than-book
Read from October 23 to November 17, 2011

Meh. Just meh. Beauty Queens is not at all what I expected. What I expected was a group of beauty queens crash land on an isolated island and it's not long before the ruthlessness of the pageant morphs into a violent "survival of the fittest" mentality, a la Lord of the Flies. I would have also settled for a dark and biting satire on consumerism and pop culture. Alas, what I got was an increasingly irritating "Girl Power!" message that never quite got off the ground as it never quite rejected everything it didactically preached against. As a message of female empowerment, it has all the depth of Day-to-Night Barbie (oh, how I remember that Barbie in her pink, tailored "go-getter" workplace dress that conveniently converted into a sparkly tulle evening number, proving to little girls that we could be serious and glamorous while we had it all).

To begin with, the novel was far too long and tried to pack in too much for what it was. Beauty queens crashing onto a deserted island is more than enough for a quirky, humorous read, but Bray packs everything she possibly can into the novel: pop culture gags, pro-LGBT messages, reclamation of female sexuality, skewerings of materialism and consumerism, secret lairs and evil mega-corporations. Hell, there's even an evil dictator named Mo-Mo who is a thinly veiled version of Kim Jong-Il. And on top of all of this is a thick layer of "You're perfect just the way you are!" frosting that makes everything A-Okay.

Now I'm a fan of all of these messages (and I especially applaud Bray for including lesbian, bisexual, and transgender characters). The problem is that the characters start off as stereotypical beauty queens, focused only on cosmetics, weight, dresses, and winning. The disconnect from society provided by the island gives them the opportunity to explore who they truly are without the consumer and societal "noise" telling girls what they should be. This is all well and good, but the girls seem to undergo an inauthentic sea-change in personality after building a few huts and sewing sparkly banners to attract help. They then become more intellectual, empowered versions of themselves, but no less stereotypical: the prickly feminist, the smart Indian girl, the tough lesbian, the defiant deaf girl, and the dumb bimbo who is trying, like, really hard to be smart. And then there is the tiny contingent of girls who survive for no other reason than to shoot off one-liners and help move the plot along. They're never given any depth or dimension, and are never really referred to by anything other than their "Miss . . . " title. The only interesting character is Taylor, the ultimate pageant girl, who finally snaps and, in a nod to Heart of Darkness and maybe even Tim O'Brien's Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong, becomes one with the violence that has always lain dormant within her.

Bray vacillates between slapstick humor and serious messages. While I did enjoy the first few chapters and there were some lines that made me laugh, most of the humor was predictable and inspired only an eye-roll as I turned the page. Unfortunately, the smart stuff, the stuff that needs to be recognized and addressed, becomes lost in the fluff. The novel's own inane silliness ultimately downplays what could have been a more powerful exploration of being a girl in today's society. Or it could have been just a fun powder puff of a novel. Either way, it would have been better than what it ultimately turned out to be. I suppose I could be accused of taking this more seriously than I should have, but I think the same argument could be made of Bray. By the ending chapter, the girls dance their way off the stage while the narrator tells us what they're wearing and gives a synopsis of what their future lives hold. Like Day-to-Night Barbie, they look fabulous and have fabulously successful lives. For the same reason I ultimately got rid of Barbie, I think I'll get rid of Beauty Queens.

Cross posted at This Insignificant Cinder
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10/24/2011 page 38
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message 6: by Lormac (new)

Lormac I started "A Great and terrible Beauty" by the same author and it was one of the few books in my entire life that I was not able to finish. A lot of Victorian girls boarding school mystical crap-trap with alternate universes and bratty girls being mean to one another - a weird combination, I think. Amazingly enough, it became the first book in a trilogy and someone actually bought the screen rights. This new book has some parallels -beautiful girls becoming empowered (as if) in an unusual setting with ridiculous plot twists.


Amanda Lormac wrote: "I started "A Great and terrible Beauty" by the same author and it was one of the few books in my entire life that I was not able to finish. A lot of Victorian girls boarding school mystical crap-tr..."

I read--and detested--A Great and Terrible Beauty and couldn't agree more. It had a great opening chapter, but then it was like she didn't know what do with the novel from there. I did not feel the need to pick up the other two books in the series. This is probably my last dalliance with Libba Bray.


message 4: by Lormac (new)

Lormac You know, we both should have known better than to dally with someone named "Libba." What do you think her given name is - Elizabeth? Isabella? Olivia? Priscilla? Or do you think she is subconsiously telegraphing that she is a "libber"? Hah! That would be something! (I am sounding like one of her mean, clique-y girls - oh well)


Amanda Lormac wrote: "You know, we both should have known better than to dally with someone named "Libba." What do you think her given name is - Elizabeth? Isabella? Olivia? Priscilla? Or do you think she is subcons..."

I think you may have something here. I find myself predisposed to dislike anyone named "Libba."


Lulufrances Seriously, while reading your review I was slightly freaked out - it was as if you had read my mind! I agree fully with this!! As you did too, I enjoyed it for the first few chapters, humor and all, but then it got too much. So yeah - great review, couldn't have said it better :)


Amanda Lulufrances wrote: "Seriously, while reading your review I was slightly freaked out - it was as if you had read my mind! I agree fully with this!! As you did too, I enjoyed it for the first few chapters, humor and all..."

Thanks! I did like Bray's brand of humor, so I may try one of her other novels and hope that it doesn't try to have such a serious message. However, for now, I still have Beauty Queens PTSD, so that day is probably far, far away in the future.


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