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Book Reviews

Review: “Beauty Queens,” Libba Bray

July 11, 2011
Review: “Beauty Queens,” Libba BrayBeauty Queens (Standalone)
Written by Libba Bray
Published July, 2011 by Allen & Unwin
396 pages
Genres: Humour
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three-stars

The fifty contestants in the Miss Teen Dream pageant thought this was going to be a fun trip to the beach, where they could parade in their state-appropriate costumes and compete in front of the cameras. But sadly, their airplane had another idea crashing on a desert island and leaving the survivors stranded with little food, little water, and practically no eyeliner.

What’s a beauty queen to do? Continue to practice for the talent portion of the program–or wrestle snakes to the ground? Get a perfect tan–or learn to run wild? And what should happen when the sexy pirates show up?

Welcome to the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Your tour guide? None other than Libba Bray, the hilarious, sensational, Printz Award-winning author of A Great and Terrible Beauty and Going Bovine. The result is a novel that will make you laugh, make you think, and make you never see beauty the same way again.

Beauty Queens is a hilarious look into the world of beauty pageants, pop culture and the quest for perfection – with a tropical island twist! Despite side-splitting scenarios and an onslaught of ridiculousness, there’s also a great amount of heart.

I’ve had a back and forward relationship with this book ever since I heard about it. Let me start by saying that Libba Bray’s A Great & Terrible Beauty series ranks among my absolute favourite series of all-time, and that knowing her ‘contemp’ reads tend to stray towards the crazy and comical, I have decided to stay away from them for now. I haven’t read Going Bovine, and to be honest, I don’t plan on it anytime soon. The synopsis just sounds too silly for me and although I KNOW Libba can do crazy and get away with it, it’s just not something I’m interested in. So that’s where Beauty Queens sat for a while.

It wasn’t until I really ‘got’ the synopsis for Beauty Queens and saw the hype surrounding its release that I finally thought: “Okay, this is Libba Bray – one of my favourites! I’m going to actually READ this”. Thus my relationship with Beauty Queens really began. I made sure I got it as soon as I was able and threw it to the top of my reading pile. Cue an almonst one month long trial of reading the approx. 400 page book…

The first half was extremely hard for me to get through. The character viewpoints kept switching constantly, chapters were interrupted by ‘fact bios’ of these beauty queens I couldn’t keep track of, and all of them (except one) seemed to be extremely shallow and idiotic! I usually don’t rate a book well or breeze through it as quickly as I usually would without a character I can get a handle on – and I definitely couldn’t relate to any of the girls in Beauty Queens!

If that wasn’t enough, we keep seeing these ‘Classified’ chapters and also chapters dictated by someone called ‘MoMo B. ChaCha’ from the Republic of ChaCha who has a stuffed lemur called ‘Captain Good Times’. I mean, I like a little silly, but this was going way too far! For a while I thought Beauty Queens was all ridiculousness and absolutely no plot.

About halfway through the book, that opinion changed. It had a lot to do with the arrival of the “pirates”, and by “pirates” I mean the cast of Captain Bodacious – another over-the-top reality TV show created by the masterminds behind the beauty pageant. Suddenly I realized that these girls were changing, that their view of the world (for the most part) had changed or at least was trying to change. In particular, I was liking the characters of Adina and Mary Lou. The girls were forming solid relationships and opening up to the reader, exposing their deepest, darkest secrets and the reason why they WERE how they were. I was actually enjoying the book.

Fast forward a few hours and I was turning the last page. I considered giving Beauty Queens 4 stars, actually. I was really torn between a 4 and a 3 for quite some time, so decided to sleep on it before giving my final rating. Ultimately I decided that because it almost took me a whole month to read, I had to go with the latter. Yes, Beauty Queens is absolutely ridiculous and definitely not for everyone, but it awarded me many laugh out loud moments and I can appreciate Libba’s sense of humour.

I must stress, if you are going into this book with expectations of A Great & Terrible Beauty, stop right there. This book has absolutely nothing in common with that trilogy, despite it being by the same author. There’s nothing to connect them, not nearly an ounce of the AGATB plot and Beauty Queens focuses on comedy more than anything else. But, somehow in her twisted way, Libba manages to make undesirable characters very likeable by the end of it.

Recommended to: Anyone going into this book with an open mind and good sense of humour will probably like it. You’d also have to ‘get’ the jokes to really appreciate the humour. Laughs guaranteed.

About Libba Bray

New York Times bestselling author Libba Bray was raised on a diet of Monty Python, loud rock n’ roll, Hammer Horror films and suburban Texas ennui. She started off weird and just got weirder. It’s a miracle she’s not in prison. Libba lives in Brooklyn with her husband, son, and two cats of questionable intelligence.

5 Comments

  • Reply Penelope July 11, 2011 at 11:24 pm

    I love your review! It makes me want to go back and give it a second chance. I am still in the beginning, and stopped reading it because I’m having problems with the characters, and the changing viewpoints as well. I had only heard good things about it, so I was pretty excited…and then I was upset when I started reading it and it wasn’t as appealing as I thought it would be. Maybe I’ll give it another chance.

    • Reply Brittany July 11, 2011 at 11:46 pm

      Aw, you definitely should. I totally understand what you mean – in the beginning I had no idea how I’d read the whole thing – but once the pirates arrive, it’s great haha. It’s still silly in parts, but a lot of humanity really comes into it – which was lacking in the first half.

  • Reply Steph July 11, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    Yeah I’ve only heard good reviews about this book but it’s good to see a different review. I’m pretty interested in reading this.

  • Reply Cory K July 11, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    I’ve really only heard good things about this. But great review, very honest.

    Don’t be a stranger; stop by my blog and say hi! I’m not quite sure if we’re fellow followers, but I follow you!

    Looking forward to hearing back from you,
    Cory @ Anti-Drug Reads

  • Reply Cialina July 11, 2011 at 11:46 am

    I haven’t run out and gotten this book since I didn’t exactly enjoy Going Bovine very much. I did love A Great and Terrible Beauty as well, but sometimes I just don’t *get* satire. I hope to give this one a shot eventually since it does seem a lot less silly than Bovine.

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