Beauty Queens

Book review by
Betsy Bozdech, Common Sense Media
Beauty Queens Book Poster Image
Sharp satire mixes girl-power themes with violence, sex.

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 5 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Teens will need to do some critical thinking about beauty pageants, corporate America, and more. (Plus, they'll pick up a few creative uses for beauty supplies.)

Positive Messages

Overall there's a strong message about learning to be comfortable with -- and proud of -- who you really are. Teen girls who've been forced to comply with rigid, often-unrealistic expectations for their looks and behavior learn to embrace their individual talents and differences and are empowered to stand up for and go after what they want. There are also important messages about relationships -- namely that you shouldn't change who you are for anyone and that the right person will love you for exactly that. That said, not all of the behavior in the book is positive.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The girls embody many teenage/pageant stereotypes (from sweet-but-dim "airheads" to smarter-but-more-manipulative schemers), but as the book unfolds, readers see that each character has her own personality, desires, talents, and strengths. The girls not only survive but thrive on the island, building shelters, finding food, and generally coming into their own as individuals rather than pageant contestants. The villains are presented as extremely broad stereotypes/caricatures, but the book is clearly playing that angle for humor.

Violence

Plenty, though most of it isn't particularly graphic. The book opens with a plane crash that includes smoke, wreckage, screams, and dead bodies (including some that are charred/burned). Over the course of the book, other people are killed in a variety of colorful (and sometimes quite sudden) ways, from predatory snake attack to point-blank shootings and more. Frequent gun/weapons use -- including explosives and some defenses that the girls improvise with jungle resources and beauty supplies. One girl has an airline tray stuck in her forehead throughout the book; there are other injuries as well (some bloody), and one girl cuts herself deliberately (a friend intervenes before anything serious happens).

Sex

Characters make out, grope, and have sex (including implied oral sex and a reference to "dry-humping"); descriptions aren't detailed. Some nudity, including skinny dipping. Discussion of condoms/safe sex. One character previously performed "Christian pole dancing" as her pageant talent. The issue of sexual identity is a theme of the book; one character is transgendered, and anther is a lesbian. Mention of the girls' physical assets (particularly as advantages/disadvantages in pageant competition); references to being slutty or "wild" vs. ladylike or "pure." A sex tape figures in the plot but isn't described in detail.

Language

Fairly frequent use of multiple forms of a variety of words, including "f--k," "s--t," "crap," "hell," "damn," "douche," "ass," "a--hole," "bitch," "oh my God," "freaking," "jerkwad," "OMG," "sucks," and more.

Consumerism

Many fake brand names/TV shows are mentioned, most meant to parody their real-life counterparts and satirize corporate America in general. A few mentions of real brands, including McDonald's, PowerPoint, Pong, and Whole Foods.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens drink (mostly rum) infrequently; some get quite drunk, while others decide not to have any at all (and aren't pressured by others to change their mind). When people eat a fruit that grows on the island, they have drug-like hallucinations and behave in a variety of strange (and sometimes dangerous) ways. Mentions of cigarettes/smoking, mostly by minor characters or bad guys. One character's father died in a drunk driving accident (brief reference).

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this Lost-meets-Clueless satire is packed with thought-provoking issues and characters -- as well as plenty of laughs directed at corporate America and the world of beauty pageants. The jungle-stranded teen girls at the heart of the story learn valuable lessons about believing in themselves and working together; they also have sex, drink, swear, and use weapons (sometimes killing people). Sexual orientation is a theme of the book -- one character is transgendered, and another is a lesbian; there's some same-sex kissing and making out. While the book is relentless about taking shots at everything from reality TV to politics to beauty products, its core themes of self-reliance, friendship, and girl power (aka feminism) shine through.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byTeenbrarian August 25, 2011

Lord of the Flies Meets Miss Congeniality - A Sharp Satire

A quirky and worthwhile read for the teen or adult feminist reader.
Teen, 16 years old Written bynicole22lauren November 3, 2014

Beauty Queens-A guide to being a modern girl

This book illustrates perfectly what growing up as a girl in today's society really is. It acknowledges just about every social justice issue we deal with... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byoZuzanna December 2, 2011

Great Book, Mature 13 and Older

A really good book. A group of beauty pageant queens crash on an island. It seems like a common story; until you discover the irony. These girls are prissy, gir... Continue reading

What's the story?

When their plane crashes en route to an exotic Miss Teen Dream pageant location, the surviving teen BEAUTY QUEENS must fend for themselves in a jungle full of snakes ... both animal and human. Because it just so happens that The Corporation -- a fictional megacompany responsible for everything from feminine hygiene products to reality shows like Captains Bodacious -- has already set up shop on the same island, and the girls' arrival could throw a serious wrench into plans to (naturally) take over the world. But all that cynical Adina, resourceful Taylor, earnest Tiara, scheming Shanti, statuesque Petra, and the rest of the Teen Dreamers know is that they have to survive -- and so they do. Working together to build shelter, catch fish, and set up defenses -- all while keeping their pageant skills sharp -- the girls quickly learn that there may be more to life than winning their next crown.

Is it any good?

Beauty Queens is the kind of book that might have you shaking your head as you giggle. Author Libba Bray skewers everything from trashy TV (you'll wish you could set your DVR for Patriot Daughters, about sexed-up Revolutionary War heroines) to world politics (Elvis-loving megalomaniac villain MoMo B. ChaCha is clearly a stand-in for North Korea's Kim Jong-il). But while nearly every aspect of the book is exaggerated for humor, the core characters and the lessons they learn about embracing themselves and one another (sometimes literally...) are valuable, especially for teen girls who might feel as boxed in by society's expectations for how they look and dress and behave as these characters do by the pageant lifestyle.

 

The satire is assisted by a well-paced story that moves along briskly; the twists may not be wholly unexpected (Petra's secret won't be too hard to guess, for one, and the arrival of more castaways isn't exactly a shocker), but you'll be too distracted laughing at the various footnotes and commercial breaks (for Corporation products, naturally) to notice. And when you're done laughing, the book's messages about acceptance, friendship, love, and girl power will linger as long as a good self-tanner.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about beauty pageants. What is the book saying about them and the way they impact contestants? Do you agree? How are pageants typically portrayed in the media?

  • What is the purpose of satire? Is it just to make you laugh, or is there more to it? What topics is Beauty Queens satirizing? Do you have to agree with the book's point of view to find it funny?

  • How does the book present topics like violence, sex, and drinking? Does it endorse/condone them? How might that change if the book's tone were different?

  • What messages is the book sending about teen relationships? Parents, talk to your teens about your own family's values regarding sex and dating.

Book details

For kids who love great girl characters

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