Pages: 390 (hardcover)
Published: May 2011 by Scholastic
Recommended for: fans of satire and anyone who is intrigued by the synopsis rather than compelled to back away very slowly
From bestselling, Printz Award-winning author Libba Bray, the story of a plane of beauty pageant contestants that crashes on a desert island.
Teen beauty queens. A "Lost"-like island. Mysteries and dangers. No access to email. And the spirit of fierce, feral competition that lives underground in girls, a savage brutality that can only be revealed by a journey into the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Oh, the horror, the horror! Only funnier. With evening gowns. And a body count.
So the premise for this novel wins this year's award for Most Insane Yet Oddly Intriguing Story Idea. I'm a huge fan of LOST and of course, Libba Bray, so this one had been on my to-read list for a year. Having read it, I was the tinsiest bit disappointed, because the island the girls were plane-crashed on wasn't nearly as intriguing as the LOST island, nor was it as disturbing or well-written as Lord of the Flies, to which it has often been compared, and which it was doubtless inspired by. BUT, it doesn't need to be. And it wasn't meant to be. Beauty Queens is a very satirical novel-- far more satirical than I was expecting. It approaches the subject of female empowerment and the double standards in society against women really quite fantastically, though I think the constant references to boy bands and shoe designers and make-up were sometimes laid on a bit too thickly. In short, the book isn't what you would expect... and yet, it is. *Slaps forehead*. OK, the point is, there's a method to Libba Bray's madness as always. Still, a great deal of it was just that... madness.
Our beauty queens are fifty... er, fourteen (a couple of the girls had 'unfortunate accidents' following the plane crash which killed the pilots and camera crew onboard) gorgeous, bikini-and-prom-dress-clad young ladies. They're psyched up for the competition, even after the little mishap that is the deadly plane crash, and while on the island they continue to practice their routines and speeches and specific talents-- which vary from traditional Indian drumming to 'Christian pole dancing'. Taylor Rene Krystal Hawkins is Miss Texas, a sweet and stand-up Southern belle who immediately nominates herself as leader. Miss New Hampshire is Adina-- the only one of the girls who seems to realize exactly how long it might be before they are rescued and what it will take for them to survive.
I loved the way the girls are slowly introduced through mini flashbacks and memories, how they become much more than shallow, superficial beauty queens in our eyes once their characters have been fleshed out both on and off the island. The pirates-- yep, there are pirates involved, and in fact they are reality TV pirates-- are all great characters as well, considering their limited screen time. My favorite ship in the novel is definitely that of Petra, our transgender beauty queen contestant (and it's interesting to say the least when the girls find out about that) and Sinjin St Sinjin, the captain of this crew of reckless young pirate-wanna-bes. The book is totally enjoyable and flows nicely despite the cliches which abound around every corner and everywhere in between. That Libba Bray humor doesn't hurt, either.
At times, the message about feminism and girl power could be a bit condescending in the way it was presented-- not exactly subtle and smart. I like for chick characters to SHOW the reader how strong and tough and intelligent they are, rather than for one of the characters to TELL us what we already know about how hard life can be when you're a woman and how you've got to overcome it. Overall, though, this is the sort of book I recommend as a novel to enjoy whether than try to analyze or take a lot away from. For me, the feminist theme never quite came together, but the characters and the situations made this a fun ride anyway. And with Libba Bray as our pilot, I truly do not have the heart to complain. I have very high hopes for her next series, The Diviners.
Plot: 3/5Overall: 4/5