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Beauty Queens

by Libba Bray

Published by Scholastic Press, 2011
396 pages
ISBN: 978-0-439-89597-2

Age 13 and older

An airplane with the 50 Teen Dream beauty contestants has crash landed on a remote tropical island. Ms. Texas puts herself in charge of the small group of survivors with food, shelter and footwork her priorities (of course they should practice their dance routines!). Smart, biting dialogue; witty adaptations of beauty contest skills and supplies for survival; and hilarious commercial vignettes for Corporation (the contest sponsor) beauty products are one dimension of this darkly comic, over-the-top novel. But the young women also begin to reveal dimensions of who they really are beneath the polished veneers: Jennifer is a lesbian and aspiring comics artist, Petra is transgender and a killer clothes designer (not to mention former lead singer of a wildly popular boy band), Mary Lou has taken a vow of chastity because she’s ashamed of her sexual desire. Shanti and Nicole, the two surviving contestants of color, find friendship in talking honestly about race, culture and their real dreams (Shanti wants to be a dance club DJ). Sosie, who is deaf, teaches Jennifer a about ability, sign language, and love. The young women prove to be capable and competent as they await rescue, unaware the Corporation has not only called off the search but is plotting to kill them. Why? It has a secret stronghold on the other side of the island where an arms deal with the dictator of a small, developing nation is set to take place. Libba Bray’s scathingly funny novel shows immense respects for teen readers as it makes fun of our cultural obsession with beauty, consumerism, and contrived reality TV (did we mention the pirates?) while challenging sexism, stereotypes and cultural expectations for girls and young women. While she’s at it, Bray frames this satirical novel to provoke thought about the role of corporate America in governance and foreign policy, and gets in more than a few digs at colonialism and the exploitation of developing nations for the benefit of corporate bottom lines, beautifully balancing it all in one of the most entertaining reads of the year. (MS) ©2011 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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