This book is a direct descendant of Lord of the Flies (a book which gets an obligatory mention by one of the girls), but it is actually more directly related to the dearly departed TV show Lost (cinematic dialogue, the use of multiple tropes I saw coming a mile away, close-ups on individual characters that all then get flashbacks, the theme of letting it all go, etc). Lord of the Flies, Lost and Beauty Queens all attempt to diagnose the illness of WHAT IS WRONG WITH CULTURE TODAY by using the trope of the island (a place where the arbitrary rules of civilization fall away), but Beauty Queens suffers in comparison to the others. Beauty Queens just ends up feeling kind of shallow. While I love the girl power message of Beauty Queens, Lord of the Flies is about so much more: reason, emotion, creation, destruction, civilization, anarchy, the individual's place within a collective, savagery, the indomitable human spirit, etc, etc. And maybe some of that stuff is in Beauty Queens as well, but it's hampered by one thing: Bray doesn't take it seriously enough.
I felt like I was being pulled in two directions for the majority of this book. Bray's offbeat, satirical tone was amusing at first, but I found that it quickly started detracting from the story once I met the girls. I really felt for these girls, especially once we started to get some backstory on them, but then something ridiculous would happen and I would be pulled right back out. The entire Corporation thing was too heavy-handed and I thought it detracted from the emotional journey these girls were on. They felt real to me, and the rest of it (Ladybird, Momo, the pirates, the compound) just felt ridiculous.
Beauty Queens was never going to be a great work of literature, but I feel like it just missed being this great book that young girls could pointed to and say, YES. But I don't think it ended up being that book. I think parts of that book exist in this one, but ultimately, they're bogged down by all the rest of it. What a shame.