3 Rated Books Book Discussion DNF Books

Book Discussion: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Title: Beauty Queens

Author: Libba Bray

Genre: Satire, Humor, Adventure/Survival, Speculative Fiction, Young Adult

Publisher: Scholastic
Publication Date: May 2011
Hardcover: 400 Pages

The fifty contestants in the Miss Teen Dream Pageant thought this was going to be a fun trip to the beach, where they could parade in their state-appropriate costumes and complete in front of the cameras. But sadly, their airplane had another idea, crashing on a desert island and leaving the survivors stranded with little food, little water, and practically no eye liner.

What’s a beauty queen to do? Continue to practice for the talent portion of the program – or wrestle snakes to the ground? Get a perfect tan – or learn to run wild? And what should happen when the sexy pirates show up?

Welcome to the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Your tour guide? None other than Libba Bray, the hilarious, sensational, Printz Award-winning author of A Great and Terrible Beauty and Going Bovine. The result is a novel that will make you laugh, make you think, and make you never see beauty the same way again.

Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel

How did we get this book: ARC from the publisher & publicist

Why did we read this book: Both of us loved Going Bovine, Libba Bray’s previous novel that won the prestigious Printz Award. Both of us love Lost. Ergo, when we heard that Libba Bray would be writing a book that would blend one of our favorite television shows in a satirical cocktail of consumerism, Lord of the Flies, and pageant princesses, we were HOOKED.

Unfortunately, for the both of us, Beauty Queens could not deliver. The following is a Book Discussion post – not a true review – as Thea had to DNF (“Did Not Finish”) it, though Ana did struggle through to the bitter end.

BOOK DISCUSSION:

Thea’s Take: Beauty Queens is the story of a group of contestants for the Miss Teen Dream Pageant – sponsored by The Corporation – and what fate befalls them when their airplane crashes on a not-so deserted island. Armed only with their sashes, evening gowns and stilettos, the would-be Miss Teen Dreamers must survive the clutches of giant snakes, bad dudes with big guns, an Evil Dictator, corporate espionage, pirates, and, of course, each other.

Billed as a satire, Beauty Queens is Libba Bray’s attempt at an ironic, mocking explication of modern day America – an attempt that, in this reader’s opinion, fails. Unfortunately, I found Beauty Queens to be a painful and pointless endeavor, with all the significance and longevity of a spray-on faux tan. The way I see it, satire is meant to be bitingly funny but subversive, inviting readers to laugh but also challenging them to think about the subject matter at hand. Beauty Queens is neither witty nor subversive. Instead, Ms. Bray’s latest novel is relentlessly heavy-handed and unfunny, overwritten, and insulting to a reader’s intelligence as the concepts being satirized/messages preached in Beauty Queens are hardly challenging or groudbreaking, and are presented in a patronizing manner. Consumerism is bad! Reality TV is rotting our brains! Beauty Pageants are misogynistic and shallow! Rather than satirical, Beauty Queens reads like a bad parody – call it the difference between an hilariously cutting romp, like Team America, and a slapstickish, mawkish puddle of drivel, like Dance Movie or Meet the Spartans.

My main beef with Beauty Queens is simple: I took offense to how mind-numbingly obvious and tediously overt the book’s message and characters read. Praytell, where is the satirical wit in portraying a group of beauty queens as incessantly vapid, bleached, tanned, and toned bimbos (including one who happens to be named Tiara)? In the repeated footnotes and chapter breaks that show the obscene, over-the-top pitfalls of triple action depilatory/shaving cream? In naming a boyband singer J.T. Woodland (Justin Timberlake, get it?!), or an Insane Dictator MoMo B. ChaCha (that’s a funny name like Kim Jong Il, get it?!)? In having a beauty-pageant winning, queen of the gun-totin’, protecting-America-from-them-terrorists Ladybird Hope running for President (OMG Sarah Palin, get it?!)? And these aren’t the only stereotypes exploited. There’s the young Indian contestant repping California that is a single-minded overacheiver, a Texas bossypants pageant monster (southern drawl included), an intelligent but abrasive Jewish contestant (who is only there to publish the TRUTH about the pageant, naturally), a chick from Michigan that is – OMG – good with mechanical stuff (who also, of course, happens to be a WNBA loving lesbian)…

The thing is, there is no elegance or metaphor to Ms. Bray’s novel. There is nothing really clever, insightful, or even funny (beyond the cheap laughs) about Beauty Queens. Instead of a scathingly witty Stewart or Colbert-ish skewering of society, Beauty Queens is obvious, capricious and preachy. And I didn’t even mention the lack of cohesive plotting or direction for the novel. While I agree with the concepts and key ideals that Ms. Bray asserts in this book (as, I assume, would anyone with a basic education), the execution of these ideas was sorely wanting. Also – why is it that beauty contestants (or cheerleaders, or models, or whatever) are always portrayed in this same derisive way? Even if the girls “learn to love themselves” at the end, why is it the default thinking that girls who enter pageants (or act as cheerleaders) must be shallow/stupid/etc? How much more interesting would this novel had been if it had taken a Bring it On type of stance and examine American fascination with pageantry from a different angle, or beauty/body image/reality television from a less obvious point of view?

I stuck with Beauty Queens for as long as I could, but there’s only so much a girl can take. Life is simply too short to waste on books that don’t do it for you. Chalk this one up to a big, fat, disappointing fail.

Ana’s Take:

I read Beauty Queens to the bitter end think Thea nails it when she calls it a bad parody because that’s exactly how I see it, too. The aim might have been satire, but I believe Beauty Queens misses the target completely. As far as I understand the style, satire is supposed to intelligently ridicule outrageous human behaviour by allowing readers to reach their own conclusions. However, the author basically masticates every single point she makes in the novel and the reader has to do no thinking whatsoever because all the ideas are presented on a silver platter.

But satire is not the only thing that the story tries to be. If only. I would actually propose that Beauty Queens is a much bigger mess than Thea hinted at. There is a side of satire (of beauty contests, of reality TV) and a dash of parody (pirates! The Corporation! The bad dictator!) but towards its middle the book actually deviates from both of these forms and tries to be a serious Contemporary novel. And a Contemporary novel about important issues (body image, female empowerment, sexual and racial diversity) and with a VERY preachy (yet worthy) message at its core: to accept oneself.

Every single character starts out as a stereotype (which I understand is the point of satire) but at some point, the majority of these characters have a flashback moment and a subsequent “revelation” to illustrate that NO, they are NOT stereotypes! They have a past! That explains how they’ve become who they are right now! They are real people! These flashbacks are clumsily incorporated into the story (seriously, in one scene a girl is sinking into quicksand, and while another is trying to rescue her, she finds herself thinking about her past. That might have worked in Lost, but not so much here) and read like episodic entries to explain each girl’s transformation. More than that though, the attempt to subvert stereotypes doesn’t really work when each girl becomes less of a character and more of an ideal representation of one. And that is not cool either.

Each of the main characters learn something about themselves and the world but in a very episodic, clumsy, detached and preachy way. A few examples follow, in chronological order.

Take this conversation between Petra (The Transsexual) and Tiara (The Not-so-Smart):

“Who says I’m not a girl?”

“You have a wang-dang-doodle!” Tiara squeaked.

“Is that all that makes a guy a guy? What makes a girl a girl?”

And the girls found they could not answer. For they’d never been asked that questions in the pageant prep.

Or when they are all sitting down for a talk:

”Why do girls always feel like they have to apologise for giving an opinion or taking up space in the world? Have you ever noticed that?” Nicole asked. You go on websites and some girl leaves a post and if it’s longer than three sentences or she’s expressing her thoughts about some topic, she usually ends with, ‘Sorry for the rant’ or ‘That may be dumb, but that’s what I think.’”

And then there Sosie’s (The Bisexual) musing on her sexual orientation when asked if she was gay:

Sosie wasn’t sure how to answer. Since she could remember, she’d had crushes on both girls and boys. They were person-specific infatuations – Brian Levithan’s wicked sense of humor was every bit as sexy as Valerie Martinez’s sweet smile and amazing krunk routines. It seemed odd to Sosie that she had to make some hard-and-fast decision about such an arbitrary, individual thing as attraction, like having to declare an orientation major: I am straight with a minor in gay.

or Shanti (The PoC) on being assimilated:

I’m not Indian enough for the Indians and I’m not American enough for the white people. I’m always somewhere in between and I can’t even seem to make it to either side. It’s like I live in a world of my own. Shantibetweenland.

And so on and so forth. You get the idea.

And THAT is my greatest gripe about the novel: there are the basic bones of a story here somewhere but no connective tissue to link all of the things that the novel tries to be. And when you can’t form a cohesive, coherent body all that’s left is a shapeless story where the message it tries to convey trumps everything else.

It is the weirdest thing to be writing a negative review of this book. This is a book that embraces and celebrates sexual and racial diversity; that celebrates feminism and female empowerment; whose main “message” is to accept and embrace oneself. I agree with all of these values, and I agree with all the messages contained in this book. But I set out to read a novel, not a manual on how to be an awesome girl. I get the message and I agree with it 100%, I just don’t have to be indoctrinated to it. That is simply not good storytelling.

Additional Thoughts: So, we Smugglers weren’t enthralled with Beauty Queens – but that doesn’t mean that the book won’t work for you. Want a chance to win a copy and an island survival guide? Make sure to check out our Beauty Queens Official Giveaway for your chance to get some free swag.

Rating:

Thea: DNF

Ana: 3 – NOT Good

Reading Next: The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

 

Buy the Book:

Ebook available for kindle US, kindle UK, nook, kobo, & sony

29 Comments

  • Ceilidh
    June 16, 2011 at 9:02 am

    *sigh* I was so looking forward to this book too. I’ve seen a lot of similar reviews from bloggers and GR friend I trust. It’s such a shame because that plot with those ideas deserves a great book. Going Bovine was bonkers but there was heart and charm behind the madness, it was organised chaos. The messages of life and death weren’t hammered into the reader. The parts you’ve posted from BQ seem really preachy and overdone. Broad satire can be effective but not when it’s delivered like an after school TV special. I may read this book in the future to see for myself but I won’t be paying full price for it.

  • Amy
    June 16, 2011 at 9:10 am

    Oh darn. I had heard good things about the diversity in this book so was actually considering picking it up but… umm… yeah I think I’ll avoid. Sounds excruciating. Preachy and overdone doesn’t do well with me. Occasionally I can ignore it but this sounds a bit extreme!

  • Jess Tudor
    June 16, 2011 at 9:17 am

    I loved it. I accepted that it was too on-the-nose but still found myself thinking about all the topics for myself, since they were so blatantly offered up on a silver platter.

    I think you ARE right to call it a parody more than a satire, that does change expectations.

  • jenmitch
    June 16, 2011 at 10:10 am

    i agree with most of what you guys said above, but i still enjoyed the book (i think i’d rate it at about a 7). there were some really good threads — like mary lou, who discovers that its ok to like sex and boys. and i actually really liked tiara — people have treated her as the vapid pretty girl her whole life, and it takes a while for her to figure out that she can be more than that.

    the book was definitely seriously heavy handed, but it still had plenty of funny moments, in my opinion. maybe the problem is that ms bray tried to do too much…? (too many characters, too many themes, too many messages…)

    one thing teenage girls could still learn from this book is that they don’t have to say sorry all the time. as trite as that might have sounded, i think its actually an important message for younger girls who haven’t yet learned it.

    as always, thanks for posting an honest review! 🙂

  • Ashleigh
    June 16, 2011 at 10:15 am

    The funny thing is that when I first read it about a month ago, I loved it–no, was over the MOON for it. Now that I’ve had a month to think about it, I don’t feel the same way anymore and don’t even remember why I loved it. The messages, I guess? No clue.

    This happens to me quite a bit with books I’m really hyped up for, actually. I’m so excited to read it that my opinion of it at first is that it was AWESOME, but then time passes and I get the opportunity to think about it and I decide that no, it was actually kind of bad, not AWESOME.

  • Kaethe
    June 16, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    Good discussion. Unlike y’all, I loved the book, because I really enjoyed the way Bray would present a stereotype and then subvert it. And my twelve-year-old loved it, but then, all of those messages were new to her. I can see how it wouldn’t work for everyone though.

  • raych
    June 16, 2011 at 1:08 pm

    Woe and gnash, disagreement on the interwebz! Ok but for real woe and gnash, because I had heard great things about and was excited for this, and now I have RESERVATIONS! Maybe I will go bovine instead.

  • Kathleen Brown
    June 16, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    I, personally, adored the book right up until about the last twenty pages. I hated that Bray was so adament on the whole “it’s okay to like sex” thing but ignored the part where girls can only like sex with one partner while it’s perfectly socially acceptable for boys to sleep around. As a, as my friends put it “superfeminist”, I think that this book covered a lot of things that, while we intelligent readers already know, most of society does not talk about. The subliminal roles of women in the media, even books that have female protags, are that women should submit to traditional roles in the end (take Katniss for example- she kicked ass, yes, but then went home, got married, and had babies.) Libba Bray just wanted to show how stupid it is that, while people may say women have become equal to men, they are still not respected or expected to act as equals.

  • Kelly L.
    June 16, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    And the girls found they could not answer. For they’d never been asked that questions in the pageant prep.

    The way that sentence is phrased is so didactic–the “and” and “for” somehow make it feel like it’s from a fable. “And then the foolish little pageant girls learned their lesson. For the truth was blah blah blah…” I think it’s because starting a sentence with “for” is sort of old-fashioned–even though I’m guilty of doing it myself sometimes–and seems out of place in a book that’s meant to be this trendy.

  • Amanda
    June 16, 2011 at 6:45 pm

    Whatever you do, don’t judge Libba Bray based on this (bad) book. Her Gemma Doyle trilogy is freaking fantastic, the kind of stuff you’ll wear out with re-reading (audio version is unbelievably good, if you can get your hands on it).

  • lew
    June 16, 2011 at 7:04 pm

    I was so excited for this book, I bought it the day it came out and have been unable to get past the first 100 pages since then. I just can’t get into it (for reasons you guys listed and a few others) I usually force myself to finish books but I may not be able to with this one.
    So far the cover is definitely the best thing about this book for me.

  • John
    June 17, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    I’m still excited for it. I think I’ll love the book, but I’ve always loved Libba Bray (for Gemma Doyle, not Going Bovine – which I have yet to read.) The thing I tend to notice with satire/parodies is that you either like it or you don’t. There is rarely a solid middle ground with satire/parodies. *shrug* If you haven’t, though, her Gemma Doyle trilogy is honestly worth it all. Maybe the lack of hype/mislabeling for you will work better. Her writing has some surprising subtleties and beauty to it, and Gemma Doyle is probably one of my all-time favorite book protagonists. 🙂

    Interesting review, though. So odd to see you guys in two book-hate positions in a row!

  • Liz
    June 18, 2011 at 9:10 pm

    I find this review very interesting mainly because it’s the only negative review I’ve read so far. I admit, I haven’t read the book. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!

  • Tara
    June 20, 2011 at 11:06 am

    eee.
    you left the book, so i took it.
    >:U

  • Leena
    June 20, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    Finally, someone who felt like I did. I was a big fan of Bray’s Rebel Angels trilogy so I thought I would love it. After reading the book, and hating it, I looked for reviews online and most of them have been positive. I agree with you guys 100 percent. The main issue for me was that she substituted issues and agendas for personality and character development. They didn’t feel like real people at all. I also thought that island life could have been more realistic.

  • Kimberly B.
    June 20, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    It sounds like Bray let the message get in the way of telling a good story with this one, which is a shame, but it happens. I really enjoyed the Gemma Doyle books, so I probably will give this one a try, too . . . eventually. Anyway, thanks for the terrific review!

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    June 21, 2011 at 12:02 am

    […] read this year. It is absurdist, satiricial and, unlike Libba Bray’s novel (which we discussed last week), Bumped actually works. Ms. McCafferty’s first YA novel provokes and invites readers to […]

  • Cass
    July 4, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    BOOOO I was so excited about this book! I thought it would be smart and funny and have a good trans character and good gay characters and and and…boooo. Thanks for warning me.

  • business cartoons
    September 7, 2011 at 1:40 am

    I like your post and the effort made by you because i am feeling very peaceful after reading it which tends me to leave a comment and be a loyal reader i will read your all upcoming posts so keep composing like this one.

  • Kennedy
    September 11, 2011 at 8:25 am

    I have to read this book for school and I find it completely ridiculous that the school board would put us through this kind of torture. The only thing comical about this book is how random and unrealistic it is. Throughout the book, I wanted to somehow go into it and scream at Taylor for being so impractical. My opinion was that Libba Bray just aimlessly threw ideas into the book at unplanned times. Like how Mary Lou had a curse on her (I thought the book was supposed to be realistic fiction?) and how Petra turned out to be the leader of a boy band (coincidentally, the only boy band the girls talked about). I wondered throughout the book how Miss New Mexico survived having an airline tray stuck in her head and why Mary Lou never asked the man she met how to get off the island.
    It makes me very happy to find that my honors friends and I are not the only people who were disappointed by this book.

  • Anonymous
    November 3, 2011 at 3:52 am

    ➡ Hello very good discussion, I have read it so interesting nicely done thanks…. 😆

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  • hattie
    July 24, 2012 at 2:45 am

    i LOVED 😀 this book i wasn’t sure i was going to like it at first but i loved it 😀 this isn’t my type of book 😯 but i still loved it 😀 i also love the author libba bray 😀 she has done well but i wasn’t quite sure about the add breaks that didn’t make much sense to me 😕 like was it really necessary?. 😀 😀 😀 😀

  • Clyde Nilson
    April 5, 2013 at 11:27 pm

    A beauty pageant or beauty contest, is a competition that mainly focuses on the physical beauty of its contestants, although such contests often incorporate personality, talent, and answers to judges’ questions as judged criteria. The phrase almost invariably refers only to contests women and girls; similar events for men or boys are called by other names and are more likely to be bodybuilding contests. Winners of beauty contests are often called beauty queens. Children’s beauty pageants mainly focus on beauty, gowns, sportswear modelling, talent, and personal interviews. Adult and teen pageants focus on makeup, hair and gowns, swimsuit modelling, and personal interviews. ,

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  • Xlins
    May 10, 2015 at 11:23 pm

    Bodybuilding is totally a beauty pageant performed by men for men.

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  • daisy
    April 14, 2016 at 5:59 pm

    This book is marketed as a comedy, but only has a few truly laughable moments. The majority of it Mrs. Bray trying (and failing) to force her readers to accept feminism with overdone satire and what I can only describe as character temper tantrums. She managed to take an awesome idea with great comedic potential and turn it into a political disaster, mercilessly bashing anything that threatens “feminism” (including all Southern states and nail polish brands.) The Epilogue was so ridiculous that I found myself literally cringing. Perhaps this wouldn’t have been so obnoxious if it was marketed as book with an extreme political agenda, but it is not. I would advise you not to read this if you want a carefree comedy or interesting adventure story. The entire plot is sacrificed, every event serves only as a way for Mrs. Bray to hammer feminism into the brains of her readers. Do not read this book if you are not a feminist. There is no point.

  • daisy
    April 14, 2016 at 6:00 pm

    ikr… she completely ignores all men’s issues. “Equality” my ass

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