Take one part Lost, one part Drop Dead Gorgeous and throw in a generous helping of Lord of the Flies and you’re only just beginning to scratch the surface of Beauty Queens.
When a plane full of contestants for the Miss Teen Dreams contest crashed on a secret, deserted island, the survivors must try to navigate the islands dangers, a lack of supplies and hope to get rescued all with the grace, dignity and poise required of any beauty pageant contestant. After all, in our world of reality television, the island crash could be just part of the judging and there could be secret cameras hidden everywhere. Unknown to our teen pageant queens, the island is actually a top secret instillation where the Miss Teen Dreams parent corporation is working to feed a ruthless dictator with weapons of mass destruction. It just so happens that a certain beauty cream used by many of those in the contest is one tiny step away from being explosive compound.
In precise, biting satire, Libba Bray not only examines the conventions of beauty contests but also examines the societal views of beauty and what women will do to try and be considered beautiful. Interspersed with commercials from the corporation, the applications filled out by many of our main characters and stories focusing on the attempted cover up of the island and that the girls are alive, Beauty Queens quickly deconstructs beauty pageants and their participants. And it all does it with a smile and a flare for language that had me grinning at some points and trying to stifle laughter at others.
The problem becomes that the story begins to wear out its welcome sooner rather than later. As much fun as the book is, it still feels like portions of the story are being padded out in an attempt to make a humorous point or to set up a punch line for later. Much like an SNL skit, Beauty Queens begins to wear out its welcome during the middle third of the book. Despite all that, I was still intrigued enough to continue reading (Bray does a solid job of creating characters that you’ll want to see through to the end).
And while I’m never one to judge a book by its cover, I will say that the cover for Queens is one that may send a lot of readers to read the books on their e-book reader. It’s not necessarily that’s any more provocative than many of the covers you see in the romance section. But I can see how the cover might raise some eyebrows or some interested looks. Just check it out and you’ll see what I mean. I checked a copy out of my local library and I got some interesting looks from the librarians as I did. (Of course, I’m used to that).
But, don’t judge the book just by its cover. If you’re looking for a satire that is keenly observed and also amusing and funny, Queens is a must read.