ICYMI: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

A really brilliant satire of modern consumer culture and the unhealthy obsession with beauty (or should I say “beauty”?). Bray’s spot-on skewering of advertisements, products, and the beauty industry is so, so funny.Beauty Queens

Basic premise: beauty queens, a Lost-like scenario, plane crash, and survival on a (seemingly) deserted island. It seems like this could be a weird and kinky rehash of Lord of the Flies–but it’s not. Instead we’re treated to the interpersonal dynamics of beauty queens (Miss Texas as the leader, y’all!), the very real problems that teenage girls face today regarding identity, beauty, and self-worth, and of course, lots and lots of sparkles.

So who survives this tragic plane crash onto an island in the middle of nowhere (seriously, that’s the setting) besides our large and in-charge Miss Texas?  Miss New Hampshire, who’s entered the pageant for investigative purposes and who is a gung-ho feminist. Miss New Mexico has a new forehead adornment–a plane tray–and it’s a catfight between Miss California and Miss Colorado for the person of color place in the Miss Teen Dream contest. I’m pretty sure this was the first YA book that I read to feature a prominent transgender character.  The pageant system is shown as a microcosm of our own crazy society, and it works really, really well.

You might think that a bunch of aspirational teen beauty queens wouldn’t last a day on a deserted island.  Ha!  Libba Bray has got you now!  What evidence do we have that because they are focused on winning a beauty contest, these young ladies don’t have any useful skills?  That is a crazy sexist assumption to make when you think about it.  Don’t feel bad; I thought the same thing at first!  And that’s what Bray’s driving at as well: these stereotypes of dumb pretty girls and smart unattractive girls are so much monkey dung.

I loved how the narrative was interspersed with ads and interviews with the Miss Teem Dream contestants.  I can confidently say that I laughed so much and so hard while reading this that I frightened my mother (I was living at home at the time).

You need this book in your life.  Why?  Well, all the reasons above, plus…

Where else can I read about the dictator of a small, resource-rich country (Republic of ChaCha) named Momo B. ChaCha, who is this totally crazy mix of Fidel Castro, a Vegas performer, Jennifer Lopez à la The Fug Girls, and Emperor Caligula?  Secret agents, psychotropic drugs, pirates … yeah. It sounds so nuts but it works so well.

Momo B. ChaCha? So. Much. Win.

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