A plane full of people crashes on a deserted island, forcing the survivors to find a way to stay alive while waiting for rescue. This is not the first time this has been done in literature or television and movies. But, each time it’s been done, there is a twist. In Beauty Queens, Lord of the Flies meets, like, Valley Girls, when a plane full of teen beauty pageant contestants (Miss Teen Dream) crash land on what seems to be an island.
As with much of this novel, the island itself is far from what it seems, and its mystery is nothing a little bit of exploration cannot figure out. Like the island itself, each girl is hiding a secret. Libba Bray weaves a fantastic satire of how culture and society treat females, which comes off as witty in the book, but is also alarmingly true. Many of the girls in the pageant are hiding secrets – from the girl who was born a boy, to the lesbian, to the girl who planned to bring them all down. Bray explores other aspects of the girls in the pageant: such as the girls who have been so molded by the pageant they feel identity-less; the ones who are only in this for the money for school; and those whose mothers live vicariously through them and use guilt trips to drive their daughters to the end.
The lifestyle of the pageant girls is one nearly of fiction. Girls are told to tell lies about their families, use fake accents, constantly have weaves and fake tans. When it comes down to it, so little of who they are is really them – they’ve been living in a façade for years, some for their entire lives.
Bray takes her satire further, targeting not only those in the pageant, but also how all girls are affected by society. In Beauty Queens, The Corporation is the overseeing power of television, music, movies, and advertising. Numerous consumer products are used in the text and, while made up, have bases in real television shows and products. (It isn’t difficult to pick out what real shows gave base to some of those used in the book.) For females, everything is about making you look younger, or prettier. One absurd product includes Lady ‘Stache Off, which not only removes “unsightly upper-lip hair”, but also moisturizes and self-tans! Also, it can be used for bleaching toilets. After all, what is beauty without pain?
While shallow on the surface, Bray takes Beauty Queens to great depths, and manages to shatter even the vainest shell of the surviving girls. Left on the island with no one to parade for anymore, the girls are finally liberated. Unlike in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, without the structure of society, these girls do not become savages, but instead find liberty and a new meaning to feminism.
Funny and emotional, Bray’s take on society’s detrimental treatment of females rings incredibly true. Society has an idea of what females should be: beautiful, sweet, obedient, and agreeable. Their intelligence comes second to beauty. If you were born a boy, you must be a boy. Homosexuality is wrong. For as witty as the book is, the dirty truth simmers just beneath the surface, and makes for an honest, compelling read.
I loved the way Bray not only poked fun at, but even criticized society’s treatment of females and what they stand for. The book made me laugh, but at the same time, managed to pull on my heartstrings. Even the most dislikable characters found forms of redemption, if only an explanation for how they became this person.
Ashlie L’Homme is not a teenager, but she still greatly loves YA. When she’s not reading or writing her own novels, she indulges in video games and photography.