Review: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

June 20, 2011

Okay, i’ve talked a few times before about how much i adored the book Going Bovineby Libba Bray. It was amazing and incredible and i was kicking myself for not reading it before i did. So, when i was picked to participate in the ARC tour from Good Golly Miss Holly‘s blog for Beauty Queens i thought i would melt in a puddle of overwhelming joy. i have wanted to read this book since i found out it existed.


i mean look at the cover, doesn’t that say enough for you? Don’t you want to read it based only on that? It’s awesome. And even though the amount i wear makeup is severely limited i really want my very own lipstick bandolier.

Okay, here’s the thing. For those of you who know me in real life you’ve probably heard this before if you only know me through the interwebz here is a little fact about me: i have NEVER in my entire life wanted to have children. i love kids but i haven’t ever wanted my own.

Until now.

i want to have Libba Bray’s babies after reading this book. i want to go up to her when i’m at the Decatur Book Festival in September (!!!) and throw my arms around her and tell her how much i love her and how amazing she is and how if she would like to inject me with the spawn of a komodo dragon i would probably just nod my head and point to my tummy possibly muttering something about dinosaurs and dragons and how much i still love her.

Yeah, that’s right this book has turned me into a slobbering inarticulate fangirl. i wish i could just open this page and write:


and be done with it all because that’s basically what i have to say. But i will try to craft a little something better for you, my dear moose-lets, because i love you too. Just not as much as Libba Bray right now.

First of all, i’m going to compare this book to two of my most favorite authors: Wally Lamb and Sherman Alexie. One of the reasons i love the two of them is because they use pop culture references out the wazoo but they don’t do it in a way that makes it feel like you’re reading an advertisement. i love pop culture more than i have words for so those little references score big points with me. Commercial jingles, passing billboards, names, whatever i ADORE finding them. Now Beauty Queens feels more like an advertisement but it’s intentional so it works and even though the things being advertised aren’t real there are very real pop culture references throughout the book and i’m sure i missed some of them but the ones i picked up on made me so happy. And the fake ones are so hilarious that i want them to be real- not really, but yes.

The premise of the book is so absurd- sort of like Going Bovine that you almost wonder if it will work. If it will veer into some sort of fantasy world that you feel a disconnect from. And while it does, in a way, veer into that un-reality there wasn’t any disconnect for me. The absurdness was so on point with the message of the book that it worked to its own advantage. It helped carry the message of the book throughout the story without making it feel like she was trying to club you over the head and say, “Yo, i’m trying to say something important here!”

The idea of pageants in general causes such an array of gut reactions for everyone and beauty pageants even more so. i am a feminist who went to a women’s college with a group of amazing friends and classes with porofessors who are very much aware of the white hetero-patriarchy and the long road women have traveled to get where we are and the distance we still have to go. i’ve been lucky in being surrounded by queer and queer friendly people who love engaging in discussions about the state of things for the LGBTQI community. i’ve been amazingly blessed in being surrounded by people from so many different everythings. BUT i know a lot, maybe even most people aren’t as lucky as i have been. That’s why books like Beauty Queens are so important. When i think of beauty pageants i get sort of a queasy feeling and a bit of a sneer on my face. i try to remind myself that some of the girls in those pageants need that scholarship money. Try to remember the volunteer work they do. But there is still something that just feels icky and in many cases racist and classist and a whole lot of other -isms. Libba Bray covers it all. And does so in a way that doesn’t leave you feeling like you’ve been subjected to either a mellow-dramatic After School Special or what many people think of as some sort of stereotypical man-hating feminist manifesto.

Oh, and the whole book is hilarious. i do fear that some of the people who read it won’t get all the humor but i have high hopes. It was laugh out loud in a i probably shouldn’t read this book around other people who i don’t know very well type way. i’m super-picky when it comes to comedy. Laughing out loud is a BIG deal for me. And when i really really laugh it’s almost completely silent (this is true, there is an embarrassing video of this somewhere) so the fact that this book had me both laughing out loud and convulsing silently should tell you something. (In fact if i were to read this book while listening to the cast recording of The Book of Mormon, i think we could prove beyond Roger Rabbit that one could actually die laughing.)

i love how Bray takes something like beauty pageants that get such a gut reaction and judgement from people and turns it all around and then does the same thing with her characters. We’ve all been to high school or out in the real world or in our workplace and judged someone based on something little. We don’t mean to but we all do it. It could be the way they dress or something they constantly do or don’t do. And many times those judgements get in the way of us getting to know that person any further. We stand in our own way because we’ve seen some tiny thing we don’t like and refuse to step around it. Bray creates characters that might make you grind your teeth or feel like you’re hearing nails on a chalkboard but also sort of forces you to keep reading and thus step around those things you judged them on and see what else those characters can bring to the table. And it was surprising, to me anyway, how much i grew to like certain characters (Tiara and Sosie.) And i loved watching Adina change throughout the book. i feel like Adina is so much me and people i know and sometimes i/we forget how much more we have to learn. i loved Petra throughout the whole book even though i knew what her story was right away. i have a love hate relationship with Taylor and i can’t decide what i think of what happens in the end.

Bad things about this book: there isn’t a real Girl Con. i want, no i NEED one.

Oh and of course some of you know or remember me talking about Mortimer. He is my favorite boy in the world- he is my moose and he goes everywhere with me. He does, indeed have a passport and id card. He also has many sets of pajamas, a bathrobe, a snuggie, and his out set of Mickey ears among other things. Most of the time when i read in bed he is with me reading along (he’s very smart) and there was one character that stuck out to him. . . General Good Times. And he would like to let everyone know that whoever can find/make him a pair of “. . . special ninja pajamas with the words Silent Killah stitched over the breast pocket.” (pg110) will be greatly rewarded.


So yeah, like i was saying. . .




One comment

  1. What size clothes does Mortimer wear? Any ideas? I might be able to fulfill this wish for such a smart moose, but I need to know how big. Or, one of his extra sets could road trip (via snail mail) to Illinois as a pattern.

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