Narrator: Libba Bray
Published by Scholastic Audio
Published on 24 May 2011
Genres: Adolescence, Contemporary, Girls & Women, Humorous Stories, United States, Young Adult
Source: my local library
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When a plane crash strands thirteen teen beauty contestants on a mysterious island, they struggle to survive, to get along with one another, to combat the island's other diabolical occupants, and to learn their dance numbers in case they are rescued in time for the competition.
Beauty Queens was a parody/spoof/comedy book, based on the concept of a plane full of teenage beauty pageant contestants crash landing on a deserted island and how they survive that. Think of a comedy version of Lord of the Flies, but with girls.
I like clever parodies, and I really enjoyed Beauty Queens. It was definitely worth listening to on audiobook. Not only is Bray an awesome author, she narrated this too! I was so impressed with the narration. She was awesome at doing different accents and voices including male characters, and there were sound effects to add to the parody during moments such as infomercial breaks which are scattered throughout the book. It’s hilarious. Like, out of the surviving beauty queens, about four of them are named Caitlin Ashleigh (various spellings).
I found the characters all well-defined with interesting and competent motivations as to why they entered the Teen Dream beauty pageant. I think my favourite was probably Taylor Rene Krystal Hawkins, a gun-loving, Republican-voting, former Little Miss Perfect from Texas, who assumed the role of Team Captain and, channelling her pageant idol turned Presidential candidate Ladybird Hope, really whipped the surviving girls into shape before going island crazy and disappearing into the jungle in a puff of glitter. Other notable characters I really liked were Shanti, an Indian-born Miss California who learned to embrace who she truly was rather than what would impress the pageant judges; Tiara, a typical dumb blonde who used her extensive pageant experience to outwit the bad guys (and save the good guys a number of times – so is she really just a dumb blonde after all?); and Petra, a trans woman who seduced the pirate captain of a rival reality TV show Captains Bodacious IV: Badder and More Bodaciouser, and let him wear her high heels. Actually, I think I like Petra more than Miss Texas Taylor Rene Krystal Hawkins.
There’s also a sinister and hilarious villain plot around the mad Elvis-loving general of a made up nation, but that plot isn’t half as fun as being with the girls and learning their backstories and motivations.
While the agenda is clearly critical of commercialisation and capitalisation, and subverting gender stereotypes, it’s also all about self-acceptance and empowering women. The girls don’t dissolve into catty fights over boys: they band together and survive. They still practice their pageant routines in between building ‘the cutest’ huts to live in and learning how to catch fish. These girls have had people watching and judging them and their femininity their whole lives: living on a deserted island paradise helps them to define who they are and what they want. And if that’s still a desire to compete in pageants, that’s OK.