Audiobook review: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray // or: my new feminist favorite (even though it’s from 2011, basically a century ago)

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The 50 contestants in the Miss Teen Dream pageant thought this was going to be a fun trip to the beach, where they could parade in their state-appropriate costumes and compete in front of the cameras.

But sadly, their airplane had another idea, crashing on a desert island and leaving the survivors stranded with little food, little water, and practically no eyeliner.

What’s a beauty queen to do? Continue to practice for the talent portion of the program – or wrestle snakes to the ground? Get a perfect tan – or learn to run wild? And what should happen when the sexy pirates show up?

Welcome to the heart of non-exfoliated darkness.

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★★★★

This should be required reading in class.

I was so surprised to find out this was published in 2011??? There are hardly any things that would be considered problematic now almost ten years later. I legit thought this was from 2016 or something just by listening to it.

Maybe it’s weird to compare this to a book that was published later, but it reminded me a lot of The Nowhere Girls, in goal rather than tone. It shows how many different ways there are to be a young woman and it grants each of 12 girls stranded on an island a point of view, agency and freedom to both go against and conform to societal expectations.

And there is so much representation: a trans girl, a lesbian girl, a questioning girl, an Indian-American girl, a Nigerian-American Black girl, a hard of hearing girl. Some of the language especially around how the trans girl’s story was handled (there is an almost outing -which Petra takes in her own hands, still, she is kind of given no choice- and a bit more focus on what is and isn’t in her pants than would maybe be considered 100% well done in 2020), but overall I think Libba Bray did a remarkable job in handling every story line with care and respect.

This is a parody and a critique of an U.S.A. that is enslaved to corporations and capitalism and outer image, but it is above all a story about women, simple as that, and the few men in the book don’t steal the scene, not even when they arrive on a pirate ship. If anything they just prove that women can take care of themselves and don’t need a man (but it’s okay to want one).

I can’t finish this short review without mentioning that this was one of my favorite audiobooks of all times. Libba Bray herself gives one of the best audiobook performances I’ve had the pleasure to listen to and I have no doubt this has played a major role in my enjoyment of this book. What was probably already very funny on the page became even funnier acted out loud, and the addition of the various sound effects for the advertisement, the footnotes etc just made it seem so real, like I was truly watching a TV show. So, if you want to get into this, I highly, highly recommend this format.

TWs: plane crash, mention of dead bodies and some gory details, sexism, transphobia, outing, mentions of homophobia, sex, recording of sex without consent, guns, fatphobia, mention of dieting

7 thoughts on “Audiobook review: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray // or: my new feminist favorite (even though it’s from 2011, basically a century ago)

  1. I read this book last year and had the same thoughts. I was shocked to learn it was published nearly a decade ago. It aged incredibly well. I think it show the strength of Libba Bray as a writer to not fall back on troupes of the time. I can only imagine how progressive this book must have seemed when it first game out.
    Great review.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. right, i kind of wish i could go back and read it when it came out (although i wasn’t even reading in english at the time lol) and let myself be shocked by everything this book did. it was still surprising in 2020 and i don’t know why more people don’t talk about it!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I had found a really cheap second-hand paperback a while back and never got around to reading it, then when i saw it on scribd i was taken by a urge to start it and it’s one of the best decisions i’ve ever made!

      Liked by 1 person

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