Thursday, September 3, 2015

Book Review: BEAUTY QUEENS by Libba Bray

I’ve been long overdue for a Libba Bray book. I read A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY in high school but didn’t enjoy it much at the time (I think if I reread it now, I’d like it a lot more). I toyed with the idea of picking up THE DIVINERS because I’d read some good reviews, but somehow I wound up checking BEAUTY QUEENS out of the library instead.  

And oh my, I’m bowing down at Libba Bray’s feet now.

BEAUTY QUEENS starts out with a plane crash. The surviving passengers—contestants of the Miss Teen Dream beauty pageant—must find a way to survive on the strange island where they land, at least until rescue arrives. That’s really all you should know going into the book. It’s much more fun to figure everything out as it unfolds in front of you. 

This book has everything I’ve been searching for in a storyline. It’s refreshing and clever and feminist and fun. The satirical tone took me a couple chapters to adjust to, but after that, I was in it until the final page. BEAUTY QUEENS was such a joy to read. If you haven’t read it (and need some convincing to pick it up), here are five reasons why you will love this book: 

1. A wide variety of characters you will adore. Each Miss Teen Dream contestant is a well fleshed out character. Once I learned all the girls’ names, I never got them mixed up—that’s how distinct their personalities are. Adina, the feminist journalist with strong opinions about beauty pageants, is my favorite. But all the ladies are relatable on different levels, and they each hold a spot in my heart! 

2. Spot-on critique of how society views teenage girls. The beauty queens confront stereotypes (of race, gender, and sexuality). They are constantly underestimated and expected to always wear a smile. 
"Can't I be pissed off? How come that's not okay for me? Like my dad will say, 'I can't talk to you when you're hysterical.' And I'm totally not being hysterical! I'm just mad. And he's the one losing it. But then I feel embarrassed anyway. So I slap on that smile and pretend everything's okay even though it's not."
 Libba Bray also does a fantastic job portraying these girls as active participants in romantic relationships. Sex is okay and consent is one hundred percent cool. Our beauty queens often call boys out when they feel they’re being treated less than fairly. They also examine why girls often apologize for no reason, ending otherwise strong statements with, “Sorry, that’s just my opinion.”
"Why do girls always feel like they have to apologize for giving an opinion or taking up space in the world?...You go on websites and some girl leaves a post and if it's longer than three sentences or she's expressing her thoughts about some topic, she usually ends with, 'Sorry for the rant' or 'That may be dumb, but that's what I think.'"
3. Positive, supportive female friendships. In LORD OF THE FLIES, the schoolboys’ island society quickly falls apart. They split into two groups and turn on one another. Our beauty queens, however, fly in the face of the catty girl behavior we’ve come to expect in today’s storylines—especially in beauty pageant stories. There’s no sabotaging or unhealthy competition. The girls work together and try to understand each other. Some of the girls who clash initially wind up the closest friends.  

4. Advertisements for seemingly absurd products and services (that actually bear a striking resemblance to ones currently on the market). Babez Dolls with oversized heads and glittery accessories (aka. Bratz Dolls) and Breast in Show plastic surgery center that will help you overhaul any bodily feature you wish, from your tummy to your thinning gums to your earlobes. 

5. Pirates. That’s all I’m saying.

Convinced yet? BEAUTY QUEENS is a book that makes you laugh, but it also makes you think. It’s so much more than the bikini-clad torso on the cover. That’s one of the points of the book, to look beyond the cover/outward appearance. Especially when it comes to teenage girls. Don’t underestimate them, and don’t underestimate this book.

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