TRANS* & Nonbinary

Lending Library

Beauty Queens

by Libba Bray (she/her) 
The Gender Creative Child, by Diane Ehrensaft, PhD

Exerpts from a critique by Shanna Shadoan

November 15, 2011

Don’t be misled by the bikini-clad model on the cover of Beauty Queens (Scholastic Press); this is decidedly not a simple hot-girls-on-an-island story. Author Libba Bray, a Printz award-winner, addresses corporate abuse of power, the culture of fear that is perpetuated through advertising, and restrictive gender binaries in this engaging book.

When a plane full of teenage beauty queens crash lands on a deserted island, the young women find themselves in a situation that no Miss Teen Dream has ever faced before: a simple struggle for survival.  The girls are forced to leave their glamorous pageant life behind, and face the reality of living in the wilderness. Add in a conspiracy, an international relations nightmare, shipwrecked pirates, and a tremendous amount of satire, and you have a gem of a novel that deftly probes consumerist culture, feminism, and identity politics.

The book is packed with witty footnotes, advertisements, plot scenarios, and it is these elements that really make the satire shine. Nothing is sacred here: Bray lampoons advertising culture, television, politics, and consumerism with equal humor and skill. Clever readers will note parallels between Sarah Palin and Ladybird Hope, and several George W. Bush vocabulary gems creep in. Anyone remember “misunderestimate”?

Bray has created a fast-paced, clever, incisive book with appealing characters.  She covers a lot of serious topics, but keeps it balanced with a heady combination of slapstick and satire. This is a book for those who love beauty pageants, those who hate them, anyone who’s ever felt pressured to be beautiful, and those who think Lord of the Flies isn’t what would really happen if a bunch of people were stranded together on an island.

Please let me know if this book requires a content warning.

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