A "Classified" Island
In her Acknowledgments, Libba Bray leaves us a clue about how she dreamed up the setting. "Further thanks should go to Josh Goldblatt," she writes. "You're right that 'the villain should have a secret lair in the volcano. That's, like, the number-one secret villain hide-out.'"
You name any desert island cliché, and this island's got it. There's a beach (of course), a jungle, clearings containing the ruins of a former civilization, mountains, a waterfall, quicksand, and yes, a volcano with an evil corporate headquarters inside. Oh, and giant snakes.
Having all these elements allows Bray to play with and comment on other stories set on deserted islands, sometimes directly:
"A hint of panic worked its way into Shanti's voice. 'I think this is quicksand!'
Nicole rolled her eyes. 'C'mon. That's just a desert island trope.'
'Well, right now, it's the desert island trope that's sucking me down. Would you help me out here?'" (16.56-58)
Making fun of a cliché even as she blatantly throws it in the story. Classy.
Plus, quicksand, like many of the other natural obstacles within the island, bond Nicole and Shanti together. Which is just one of the moments in which the Teen Dreams get down to some serious emotional heavy lifting. And most of the scenes when that happens tend to happen deeper in the jungle.
On the flip side, the beach is like their connection to the rest of the world. Or at least they think it is. They camp there with the hope of spotting a rescue ship, and they find the reality-TV pirates on the beach (which is a link to reality, in a weird, twisted way).
But deeper in the jungle feels like a place away from their former lives. It's where Mary Lou can be her wild girl self, where Taylor can hide after she goes crazy, and where the non-white girls can fall into quicksand, and get out again. In this story, the deeper into the island they go, the more likely they are to grow as characters.