Review: Beauty Queens (Bray)

AUTHOR: Libba Bray
SERIES: none
PUBLISHER: Scholastic Press
ISBN: 9780439895972
PAGES: 396
SOURCE: public library
GENRE: Survival; humor (satire)
GIVE IT TO: Smart HS girls

SUMMARY: A plane carrying the fifty Miss Teen Dream Pageant contestants explodes mid-flight, stranding the surviving teen passengers on a (presumably) deserted tropical island. On the island, the girls must learn to put aside their differences and work together to survive. Satirizes commercialism, reality TV, beauty pageants, gender expectations, and corporate rape of the natural world.

MOVIE COMPARISONS: Miss Congeniality meets Lord of the Flies


  • Overall: 3/5 stars–recommended for HS libraries
  • Creativity: 5/5–Intensely creative!
  • Characters: 3/5–Didn’t care for the guys, but the girls were great!
  • Engrossing: 2/5–Too long; I considered abandoning it at times.
  • Writing style: 5/5–I’ve read the Gemma Doyle trilogy also. No doubt, Bray can write.
  • Appeal to teens: 2/5–Some will love it, but I can see many abandoning it. Definitely not for struggling readers.
  • Appropriate length to tell the story: 1/5–Too long!


  • Language: mild; some cursing lightly sprinkled throughout
  • Sexuality: high; sexual intercourse (described, videotaped), condom application and use; homosexuality (females); transgender/cross-dressing characters
  • Violence: mild-moderate; a few murders via spears and other homemade weapons
  • Drugs/Alcohol: moderate; the girls drink rum and some get drunk; girls eat some berries that have hallucinogenic effects

STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We do not have it. It is definitely high school.

WARNING: The reviews on this site are intended for librarians who need thorough book reviews in order to make informed purchasing decisions. As such, anything below this warning may contain mild spoilers. I try not to give away too much, but I do review the entire book.

WHAT I LIKED: Funny stuff! I love satire, and the absurdity of the girls’ situation made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. While the storyline is far-fetched, Bray’s commentary on commercialism and our media-saturated society is spot-on. The “commercial breaks” and product placement footnotes throughout the story will make readers feel like they are watching TV, adding to the air of commercialism throughout the book. The final chapter’s catwalk scene is easy to picture as the end of a made-for-TV movie, scrolling a summary of each girl’s future as she struts her stuff amid adoring fans and flashing cameras. Being a closet fan of “Toddlers in Tiaras,” I liked that I knew some of the pageant terminology (flipper, sparkle hips, princess hair, spirit fingers).

I love the “Fun Facts” profiles of each of the survivors. “Fun Facts” profiles are paperwork each pageant contestant had to fill out about herself when she entered the pageant. Some of the “facts” contain footnotes about how “The Corporation” asked the girls to change their responses to make the contestants appear more wholesome or to make The Corporation look better. Love it!

Characters, particularly the female survivors, are endearing and believable. The girls initially appear to be stereotypically shallow, spoiled beauty queens, but they become more and more believable as the story unfolds. The girls themselves are truly the only realistic part of the story; their apparently pampered lives are anything but easy. Each girl battles her own demons, has her own secrets. I love their individual journeys to self-discovery and how they learn to cooperate to ensure their survival. It’s refreshing that, even though they argue at times, the girls work together and become friends rather than dividing into little mean girl cliques.  

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE: I was going along just fine for about the first half of the book, chuckling at Bray’s wit and marveling at how she could have come up with such a crazy/clever story. Enter the “sexy pirates.”

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE romance in YA books, to the point that when it is not included, I often don’t get as excited about the book. But for this book, I got irritated with the introduction of romances. UGH. I can only assume that Bray included them to show how easily these tough girls could be swayed by the charms of bare-chested young men. I felt like the entire story goes downhill fast once the pirate ship enters the scene. All of a sudden, the girls have access to modern technology, alcohol, food, real beds, and sex. For me, that drained all the adventure out of the story. It’s like they’ve already been rescued, yet the story still coughs out 150 more pages of ill-conceived one-night stands, absurd arms deals, and a Scooby-Doo-esque “bad guy confession.”

While clever, unique, and initially interesting, Beauty Queens is also overlong and just exhausting. I stopped caring about halfway though and seriously considered “abandoning ship” long before I finished.  

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