Bookmarks Issue: 
Libba Bray

missing imageThis is the fifth novel for young adults by Libba Bray, whose previous works include Going Bovine (2009) and the Gemma Doyle Trilogy (2003–2007).

The Story: American culture may enjoy a little Schadenfreude about beauty pageant contestants--Drop Dead Gorgeous anyone?--but Beauty Queen is a bit much: a plane full of teen queens has crash-landed on a desert island in a scenario reminiscent of Lord of the Flies. Though the book begins as a send-up of these girls and their efforts to keep up their beauty pageant routines despite their dire situation, it gradually evolves into a celebration of the genuine people behind the pretty faces. That's not to say Bray doesn't keep the humor coming, though: as the girls realize they're not alone on the island, the novel's satirical lens focuses on reality TV, megacorporations, and the follies of a culture that would make young girls perform in beauty pageants in the first place.
Scholastic Press. 400 pages. $18.99. ISBN: 9780439895972

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Beauty Queens is a madcap surrealist satire of the world in which [Libba Bray's] readers have come of age--reality TV, corporate sponsorship, product placement, beauty obsession--but ultimately, it's a story of empowering self-discovery. ... As the contestants unravel what's really happening on the island, their post-crash worries about choreography practice and their search for edible grubs seem like the good old days." Whitney Joiner

Publishers Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"Bray follows her Printz Award–winner, Going Bovine, with an only slightly less absurd premise in this out-there satire about a planeload of teen beauty queens who crash onto a (not so) deserted island. Lord of the Flies with an evening gown competition, anyone? ... There's a lot of message, but every time the story veers toward sermonizing, Bray corrects with another crack about our media-saturated, appearance-obsessed, consumer-driven society." 4 of 5 Stars
"Printz-award winning author, Libba Bray, returns with another modern story for teens that is filled with satire, sarcasm, and wit. ... [T]he book twists, stealthily, until readers see the real girls behind the makeup and start to root for these heroines.  It is masterfully done and all with a lot of humor." 4 of 5 Stars
"A biting satire of our consumption-driven, beauty-obsessed, reality-show-infatuated culture, this is also a straight-up adventure story with strong female leads who realize that they have more to offer than pretty faces. ... Bray takes different female stereotypes, pushes them to their extremes, and then subverts them all while keeping the plot rolling along. This book is so over-the-top that it may alienate more close-minded readers, but there's enough entertainment here for girls (and boys) of all different reading tastes to like."

Critical Summary

Libba Bray has cultivated a knack for developing young adult novels that empower young girls without beating anyone over the head with their message, and critics felt that Beauty Queens was no exception. The novel's satirical aspects, they wrote, were laugh-out-loud funny. But Bray also manipulates the plot in such a way that by its end readers have come to sympathize with the plane full of teen girl stereotypes they met at the start. All reviewers recommended the book not just for fans of Bray's previous work but for any young girl who might need an antidote to media focused on the superficial.