Favorite YA Novels of 2011: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

When I was a teenager, I distinctly remember reading both Lord of the Flies and Seventeen magazine on the beach one summer. If the two were to propagate, God forbid, the result might look something like Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens, only BQ is much darker and much funnier, and I would have been far more impressed with BQ than I ever was with LOTF or Seventeen, both of which I somewhat resented. In fact, the only thing I don’t like about Libba Bray is the fact that her books weren’t in existence when I was a teen. They’re insane, and I mean that as a very high compliment. One of the characters has a tray table stuck in her head the entire novel.

A group of teenaged girls are plane-wrecked on a tropical island on their way to the Teen Dream beauty pageant, sponsored by The Corporation. The plot expands (I mean, explodes) from there, and it’s virtually impossible to say any more than that without giving anything away. Of the girls capable of leading the others, two major figures emerge. Adina is the dark horse: she’s Jewish, sarcastic, a journalist, and from New Hampshire. We find out that she’s entering the pageant as a revolutionary act. Taylor Rene Krystal Hawkins is her polar opposite. She’s from Texas, from George Bush high school, and her dad’s a general. She’s tan, blonde, perfect, and she wants to be a motivational speaker when she grows up. Taylor appears to have drunk the Kool Aid as far as the anti-feminism, pro-beauty-pageant plateform goes. But this is Libba Bray writing, so watch out.

The major plot and minor plots (and footnotes!) are completely insane, but it’s the characters I mostly like, including the two minority contestants, Nicole and Shanti, both of whom feel resentment towards the other for being the “minority” contestant. They’re both treated sympathetically, and it’s interesting to see how both are forced to conform to a standard which is similar yet different from the one the white girls are expected to follow. There’s a deaf contestant, a contestant with an attraction to another contestant, and a truly stupid contestant who is sent to Smart School on the island. It’s one of those profane/profound stories. Don’t eat or drink while you’re reading it, because you’ll either choke or find Coke coming out of our nose because you’re laughing so hard.

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About Carey Hagan

I'm a reference librarian in Virginia and I do children's and YA [young adult] reader's advisory.
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3 Responses to Favorite YA Novels of 2011: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

  1. oooh this book seems amazing! can’t wait to read this, it sounds intriguing

  2. Jessie says:

    I also thought this book was brilliant. I want to know how this same woman could have produced A Great and Terrible Beauty which I found to be truly awful?

  3. I’ve read all of Libba Bray’s novels so far and I love them, but I was skeptical about Beauty Queens because of the image the title evoked in my mind. However, your review of the book has made me see beyond it. I now want to read it; and maybe Lord of the Flies later on 😀

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