I feel like I can’t rave enough about what an amazing book Beauty Queens is. Immediately after finishing it, I had all these garbled thought about how great it was, and everything that it represents. If I’d written my review then, it probably would have gone something along the lines of, “All teenage girls should read this book! All teenagers in general should read this book! EVERYBODY SHOULD READ THIS BOOK!” I will try to be a little more professional in this review.
I think I actually rolled my eyes at the premise of this book. A bunch of beautiful teenage girls are on their way to a beauty competition when their plane crashes on a remote tropical island. Armed with only what they were wearing when the plane went down and whatever didn’t catch on fire in the crash, they have to find a way to survive the elements until help comes.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably say that I absolutely adore Libba Bray. A Great and Terrible Beauty was one of my favorite book series in high school, and The Diviners was one of my top reads of 2013. (I’m also sitting here, quite impatiently, waiting for Lair of Dreams.) But for some reason, I just didn’t think I’d like this one. I was so, so wrong.
The first thing you should understand about this book is that it’s satire. And the satire is on point. The book is unapologetic in its satire of our obsession with reality television, our obsession with our appearances, our obsession with being the best. The author includes the most hilarious footnotes throughout the book, supposedly from The Corporation, in which they recommend various products that would assist the characters in their current dilemma. The thing is, these absolutely ridiculous products actually seem like something you might find in a department store.
The second thing is the representation, which is so important. Yes, these girls are all beautiful. They are all beauty queens, after all. But they don’t fit a cookie cutter mold of what a beauty queen “should” be. Among the girls who survive the crash are:
- an Indian-American girl
- a pre-pre-med girl
- a deaf girl
- a trans girl
- a girl who loves comics, and even makes her own
- an unapologetically super girly girl
- girls of every sexuality imaginable
- even a girl who wants to dismantle the pageant system from the inside!
And initially, these girls don’t get along. It’s hard for the girl who’s so focused on the misogyny that’s so inherent in the pageant system to understand that it’s okay for the other girls to really like wearing cute clothes and doing their makeup. It’s hard for the religious girls to understand that some people are trans, and that’s okay. But the really, really great thing about this book is that the girls come to the realization that they need to support each other, and it doesn’t matter what their backgrounds are, they’re all working toward the same goal and it does no good to tear each other down. The really feminist message of this book is that all girls are important, regardless of how they like to spend their free time, who they date, or whether they’re more interested in politics or interior design.
There are frank discussions of how it’s okay for boys to get mad, but when a girl shows any negative emotions, suddenly she’s “hysterical” or “on her period.” They discuss how girls always feel the need to apologize for everything from having emotions to actually getting hurt. And, personally, I loved it when they looked inside to find what they’re really good at and could contribute to the group. These girls, who’ve spent their whole lives being told that they’re of value just because they’re pretty, find that they’re actually talented at building huts, or developing a system to store rainwater, or tending to injuries, or keeping everybody fed. And they find out that being able to do all these things doesn’t make them any better or worse of a female than they were before, but it does give them a great sense of purpose.
I just can’t say enough great things about this book. If not for my 2015 reading challenge, I don’t think I ever would have read it. The relatively low average rating combined with me not thinking I’d really enjoy a book about pageant girls meant that it was sitting at the very bottom of my TBR list, there only because I love Libba Bray. But my reading challenge told me that I had to read the book at the bottom of my TBR list, so I did. And I’m so grateful, because this is literally one of the best books I’ve ever read. It’s 400 pages, but I devoured it in just a few hours. That’s how good it is.
Pick it up. You won’t be disappointed.
Final rating: ★★★★★
For my 2015 reading challenge, I’m crossing off #20: a book at the bottom of your to-read list.