A while ago, I was in the mood for an easy feel-good read that didn’t require too much brain power. The kind of book I could read while studying, say, medieval literature, and not feel like my brain was going to explode. And since I love Libba Bray, I went to the store and picked up two of her books I hadn’t yet read. I haven’t gotten to Going Bovine yet. But I immediately jumped in to Beauty Queens, which is basically Miss America meets Lord of the Flies. And I’m a big fan of Lord of the Flies (it’s the first “grown-up” book I ever loved). Beauty Queens was the perfect little mental escape – an island vacation with just the right amount of almost absurd danger.
The premise: a plane carrying the contestants of the Miss Teen Dream pageant crashes on a mysterious island. Equipped with just a few salvaged gowns and a mountain of beauty supplies, the thirteen surviving contestants have to learn to adapt and survive on the island. But their biggest challenge is getting along long enough to defend themselves against the island’s other inhabitants, who are not so nice.
I have to say, I think much of my appreciation for Beauty Queens comes from the fact that I went to an all-girls high school. Most of the characters seemed so much like girls I went to high school with. Although, Bray’s version of teenage girl drama is slightly less painful and definitely funnier. However, I was kind of hoping for some more Lord of the Flies. I mean, Bray’s other series (the Gemma Doyle trilogy and The Diviners), both of which I love, are dark and somewhat violent. So I was honestly a bit disappointed when I didn’t get that same feel from Beauty Queens. The Corporation (the evil television network sponsoring Miss Teen Dream) was definitely a bit dark, but it was nothing compared to Bray’s other villains.
I did really like that, for a book centered around beauty pageant contestants, the characters are very diverse. There’s the hardcore pageant queen, the girl who’s only doing pageants for her mother, and the one who just wants to expose the pageant as anti-feminist. But there are also transgender and lesbian contestants on the island. And Bray also addresses issues of racism with several girls of color. Lately I’ve been really noticing the lack of diversity in many novels (something I honestly hadn’t paid too much attention to before), and I thought it was great that Bray chose to write about such a wide variety of characters, especially in a book for young people.
Beauty Queens was good, but not a favorite. I just think my hopes were too high given my love for both Libba Bray and Lord of the Flies. Still, if you’re interested in this type of book, it’s worth a read. And I give it commendation for realistically (as much as possible in a totally abnormal setting) portraying LGBT and minority teens.