beauty-queensTitle: Beauty Queens

Author: Libba Bray

Format: Audiobook

A plane full of Beauty Queens crash land on a desert island – Libba Bray is possibly the only author to hear this idea for a book and cry “Yes!” I am really thankful she did.

Dividing into two teams, The Lost Girls and The Sparkleponies, said beauty queens set about the business of surviving the island until their rescue. This would be difficult enough if all they had to overcome was each other and their team leader Miss Texas – a card carrying member of Femmes With Firearms and the ultimate Miss Teen Dream.  Unfortunately for them, this is no Lord of the Flies. There are also giant snakes, quicksand, an evil corporation and the shipwrecked rockstar pirate cast of hit reality TV show, Captains Bodacious 4: More Bodaciouser.

Libba Bray’s very well aware of how ridiculous this is. Her tongue is firmly in cheek, and I wasn’t surprised to hear she’d spent time in marketing and advertising as the book is punctuated by entertaining, satirical advertisements for products ranging from sexist TV shows to “Lady-stache Off” (a feminine hair maintenance product). Meanwhile, Sarah Palin is thinly disguised as Ladybird Hope, former Miss Teen Dream Queen, presidential hopeful and spokeswoman for The Corporation.

Beauty Queens is about pageant contestants, some of whom take sparkle as a way of life and make Daria’s Britney look like an honour student. Despite (or because of) that beginning, this is a very clever book. Though it starts (and continues) poking fun at the contestants they still grow over time, as well as successfully surviving in a situation which might have caused others to start talking to basket balls. Much like any easily stereotyped group, as you look closer they emerge as separate, interesting, flawed people – each with their own reasons for competing.

The contestants aren’t the only ones Libba Bray is mocking either – as the regular advertisements and Corporation footnotes demonstrate, she’s far more critical of the society that both helped create them and continues to underestimate them. Gender ideals, and how narrow and harmful they can be, is a recurring theme without the book ever crossing the line into preachy. Each contestant has spent years shaping herself towards what the judges, and society as a whole, wants her to be – physically, mentally and emotionally. They’ve grown up listening to The Corporation catch phrase “there’s nothing wrong with you that we can’t fix”, and this makes it all the more moving to see the girls gradually lose interest in the competition as their time on the island continues. Of course, whether Ladybird Hope, Agent Jones and rogue mad dictator Mo Mo will let them leave the island is something I couldn’t possibly reveal.

In Beauty Queens Libba Bray touches on sexism, self-esteem, sexuality, consumerism, reality television, societal expectations and a bevy of other issues familiar to her audience. Better still, she’s done so through a frequently hilarious, ridiculous novel full of sequins, Sparkle Ponies, pirates, size 11 heels, boy bands, HipH-opera (why is that not a thing?) and explosives carefully concealed in feminine beauty products. Needless to say, I couldn’t be more impressed.

Audiobook Only Note:  Also – Libba Bray narrates the audiobook. The award-winning audiobook. She does voices. Is there anything she can’t do?

Stalking Note: Libba Bray will be part of the YA vs Adult Friday Night Fight at the Emerging Writer’s Festival – have a look here