Book review (with spoilers…sort of): Beauty Queens by Libba Bray.

Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens was perhaps the book I most looked forward to finding under the tree. (How did I know it would be there? Because Santa and I are likethat.) I was so excited, I Santa might have even have paid full price – well, as full price as anything ever is on Amazon. I mean, listen to the synopsis: 50 teen pageant finalists go down in a plane crash on a (supposedly) deserted island. All chaperones have been killed. The girls must learn to survive on their own – without food, water, or (gasp!) beauty products. To cap it off, the book art shows a headless blonde contestant in a bikini ramboed up with a belt of lipsticks instead of bullets crisscrossing with her sash. Awesomeness.

So there I was, just after Christmas, opening a book promising to be full of snark, wit, satire, interesting format, and my genre-kryptonite: a survival story. I cracked it open as soon as I finished the book I was reading and…yep, that’s when the disappointment first set in.

The voice. I knew this was going to be a Young Adult novel; I guess I just didn’t realize that Young Adult was synonymous with keeping the narrator’s voice light, simplistic, and as airy as the blonde on the cover. But perhaps it just took a bit for the story and the narrator settle down. The sarcasm did step up – and that’s always a good thing. But after a quarter of the novel leaked by, I realized that the sarcasm and the snark were surface only. Libba Bray seems to have such potential, and while I haven’t read her other novels, I’ve heard nothing except how edgy and fun and screw-the-rules she is. Either she forgot that the funny only lasts so long, or else she got a little over-confidence. Yes, you need a whole lotta cheeky to make this kind of satire work, but there’s gotta be other layers underneath the cheek.

Keep it simple, stupid? In fact, the irony of the novel was that Bray didn’t intend wade further than skin-deep in any of the areas she examined. She discussed the evils of pageantry in that it presented One Acceptable Beauty Standard to women, but then Ms. Bray refused to flesh out her idea. If pageant queens are people too, then how come all of Bray’s characters were uncomplicated and very stereotyped? It was like reading the Seven Dwarfs Act of Miss Congeniality on the Set of Lost. If the message was that you don’t need a boyfriend (or a girlfriend) to make you whole, why enter a completely random boatload of sexy, cardboard, emo pirates (!) who all are conveniently paired off with the beauty queens in a fashion so heavy-handed I saw stars in front of my eyes. The ideas were all there – but Bray waded shin deep into the kiddie pool of discussion and no further.

The characters. I mentioned the seven dwarfs, right? Because we had a gun-toting Miss Popular, take-you-down leader from Texas; a smarter-than-thou snarkster from New Hampshire; a girl-next-door from the Midwest; a southern beauty who wanted so! hard! to be smart, yo; a black girl and an Indian girl who competed for the Most Marginalized Minority; a deaf girl; a delinquent…are you catching my drift? While everyone has minor epiphanies, most characters turn around the next chapter and undo any incremental character development that occurred. (Yes, you will bang your head against any nearby surface.) Only Taylor – Miss Texas that was – seems to bother embracing change. And when I say embrace, I mean she hopped on the crazy train and never got off. Not that I was complaining at that point. She was actually interesting.

The plot. There was so much promise: the plane wrecked. Everyone pretends they’re Project Runway-meets-Lost. There’s a looney-toons dictator trying to take over the world. The Corporation (think a kinder, more soothing Big Brother) really has taking over the world – or at least the entertainment portion of it. All of that works. But then there are plot-baffling pirates with no bearing on the story. An eco-terrorist who elicited a WTF? from me. And then there was the black-shirted baddies who, honestly, didn’t make any sense. In other words, Bray should have kept the skeleton from the opening of the book and Chosen a Different Adventure.

Good concept, painfully disappointing execution. 2 of 5 stars.


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3 Responses to “Book review (with spoilers…sort of): Beauty Queens by Libba Bray.”

  1. Kathy Says:

    😦 sounded so good in the beginning – thanks for letting me know I can skip this one.

  2. The Books of 2012: YA and Children’s Lit. « Stacked Says:

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