Beauty Queen… of the Flies

Honestly, when I saw this cover, I was a bit dubious if I would like the book. She is, after all, almost beheaded and in a bikini (implications?), but the cover is saved by the bandolier crossed by her beauty queen sash.

Of course, Beauty Queens is by Libba Bray, author of Going Bovine, which won the Michael L. Printz Award last year, as well as the Gemma Doyle books, so I had high hopes. She definitely did not disappoint. The book is in turns both horrifying and hilarious (hilarifying?). She starts the book with a plane full of Miss Teen Dream contestants on their way to compete for this illustrious title. It’s too bad that everything goes down from there, and I mean down literally. The plane crashes on a deserted (or is it?) island, killing off all of the adults and most of the contestants. Only a handful are left, and it’s true that at first, most of them seem like shallow airheads who are only concerned with continuing their choreography practice while they wait to be rescued (yes, that would be Miss Texas). Eventually, they realize that rescue just isn’t going to happen, and they set about using what they’ve scavenged from the wreck to provide food, fresh water, and shelter (and still practice their choreography). It turns out that most of these girls are not dumb and actually have hidden talents, like the one who is pre-pre-med, or the one who is on her way to becoming an electrical engineer. Miss Texas is a member of Femmes and Firearms, and she goes first militant and then out-in-the-field-too-long crazy when the girls start to find out they aren’t alone on the island.

In the midst of all this character development, Bray introduces pure satire that makes fun of everything from reality TV to product advertisements to politics to religion. This is not a book to be taken too seriously (see Bray’s Q & A with herself on the book’s Amazon page). True, there is no cannibalism to make this really Lord of the Flies-esque, but you can’t read this book without a healthy appreciation of its absurdity.

And speaking of… Bray creates a playlist for each book she writes, so if you’d like a soundtrack for Beauty Queens, here are a few tracks taken from her self-conducted interview: Beauty Queen/Roxy Music, Mystery Girl/The Yeah YeahYeahs, Guyana Punch/The Judys, Paper Planes/M.I.A., Diamonds Are Forever/Shirley Bassey, Porpoise Song (Theme from “Head”)/The Monkees, Teenage Dream/T-Rex, and Ladybird/Nancy Sinatra in honor of Ladybird Hope (you’ll meet her in the book).

– Heather Botelho, South Branch Library

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