Study Guide

Beauty Queens Quotes

  • Friendship

    Adina gave a thumbs-up, and the girls grabbed her in a group hug. They cheered. For me, Adina thought. They were cheering her, and she was hit with a sense of pride and camaraderie she would have found cheesy back home. (9.68)

    Here's the thing about deserted islands with hostile climates: they make community feel really important. Adina didn't need friends back home, when she had all her projects and sense of importance and stuff, but she definitely needs them now. And to her surprise, she finds they're kind of nice.

    "Hey. Don't worry. We'll find it tomorrow." Adina put her arm around her friend. She hated everything the ring stood for, but it mattered to Mary Lou and so it mattered to Adina. (13.219)

    Snaps to Adina for learning how to be a buddy! For her, ideals are everything. But she's able to separate them from her very real friendship with Mary Lou.

    The girls were taking turns with the pumice stone, scraping it along the ends of sticks to make spears. The air was warm, the sound of waves soothing. And they fell into contented conversation, as if they'd been lucky enough to con all their parents into letting them have a colossal sleepover with no supervision. (13.72)

    This is the first time the beauty queens catch a real break since they crashed on the island. The weather's good, they have a food source, they've built shelters and ways to protect themselves from future monsoons. They've bonded along the way. Makes it easy to forget they're stranded on an island with little hope of rescue.

    "I don't know! I don't know anything about you. Because you're like this big mystery. I'm getting to know everybody else. But you, you're like a window display for an empty store, if you ask me." (16.49)

    Nicole confronts Shanti, and she's right. Most of the other girls have let their guard down at least a little, but Shanti hasn't let the act drop for even a second. Face it: you can't be real friends with someone who is acting all the time.

    The two of them lay back and let the warmth of the water work on their tense muscles. They were relaxed from the water and giggly with their shared adventure. Talk came easily now. (17.23)

    A near-death experience with quicksand and some disclosure. That's what it took for Shanti and Nicole to go from frenemies in one chapter to true buddies in the next.

    "If you were my best friend, you'd trust me." Adina took a step back. She'd never been anybody's best friend before. "Okay, Mary Lou, I got your back. Show us." (19.87-89)

    Here we have yet another instance where Mary Lou teaches Adina how to be a friend. To Mary Lou, friends should believe you, no matter how improbable your story. That's a big lesson for skeptical Adina, but once again, the island's power to create friendship prevails.

    "Nicole is no traitor," Shanti growled. "Or are you going to profile me next?" "Knew you'd have my back." Nicole stood with Shanti. (20.67-68)

    Hard to believe that Shanti and Nicole used to have a bad relationship. Now, they're sticking together against racism. Powerful stuff.

    When her friend had cried herself to sleep, Mary Lou covered her with a palm frond and marched toward the camp. Her strides took on purpose as if her feet were marking a path through the cornfields where wild girls ran unconstrained—and where they hid themselves when the world judged them for their agency. Her palms prickled. Her skin warmed. The wild girl was coming alive. The pack protecting its own. (23.30)

    This is the first time where the idea of the "wild girl" isn't about Mary Lou's sexuality. She has a different kind of ferocity when someone messes with her friend. And it shows her that wildness ain't all that bad.

    "Oh, and my friends need to come, too. We're girls. We travel in packs."
    "Unbelievable," Petra whispered in awe.
    The girls emerged from their hiding place. The guard held up a hand.
    "I can't let all of you inside."
    "You have to let Petra come in because she's my best friend," Tiara said.
    "And you have to let me in because I have my period," Adina said.
    "And you have to let me and Shanti in or else you're totally racist." Nicole glared.
    "You have to let me in or I'll cry," Jennifer said, working up tears. (29.66-73)

    It's kind of amazing how the beauty queens work together to make the guards think they're harmless. Capitalizing on stereotypes can come in handy, sometimes.

    Mary Lou misses a step and the girls teeter near the edge, shrieking, but they manage to right themselves, and then they are laughing once more, leaning into one another in affection as much as support, a great chain of girl. (E.62)

    The book ends with an image of friendship. No competition, no survival, just real affection for each other. Isn't that nice?

  • Isolation

    The jungle answered with unknown screeches and a low, murmuring hiss. No one moved. They watched what was left burn.
    "We should get back and let the others know," Taylor said at last. "It's just us. We're the only survivors. We're on our own." (2.66-67)

    This is the moment the beauty queens find out there's no adult to guide them. They're alone in a jungle that is full of the unknown. Spooky.

    "Six weeks is a long time, Agent. And it's a hostile island. They'll be lucky to last two days," the Boss answered. (5.17)

    The Boss (who we'll soon learn is Ladybird Hope) doesn't believe the girls can survive the island alone. She expects them to die. Typical adult arrogance.

    "Fine. Desperate times call for desperate measures." Taylor grabbed a shell and gouged the sand, going deeper and deeper. She reached into the sand and brought up a white, cylindrical bug. It wiggled lazily in her palm. "Who wants to eat first?" (9.39)

    Taylor is surprisingly practical when it comes to survival. On the mainland, none of the girls would consider eating bugs, but Taylor knows that right now, it's what they have to do.

    But things were different out here in the jungle. It was as if the wheels were coming off the old Sosie. She wasn't interested in being everybody's good sport anymore. The sweet deaf girl mascot. Fuck that. (12.15)

    Survival has a way of making old concerns seem…small. Now that Sosie is trying to survive, it doesn't make sense for her to be fakely positive about her disability. She has bigger things to worry about.

    The bird scrabbled into view. Seeing the girls, it squawked and darted into the dense jungle growth. With a war cry, Sosie grabbed her spear, and she and Jennifer ran after it, full-bore, without second-guessing. (12.70)

    Look at our little Jennifer and Sosie! A few days on the island, and they're practically hunting machines. Baller.

    Adina stacked pieces of fish on her stick and twirled it over the fire to cook them, as she'd learned to do. "Taylor, I think we're kind of beyond Miss Teen Dream now. I mean, look at us—look what we've built here in the past however long we've been here." (13.200)

    After doing what it takes to survive—building actual structures and catching their own meals, the girls don't need to win a beauty pageant to make them feel good about themselves. Which is basically the whole point of the book.

    Mary Lou wiped fruit juice from her mouth with the back of her hand. "Maybe girls need an island to find themselves. Maybe they need a place where no one's watching them so they can be who they really are." (15.56)

    For girls, isolation means no one is judging them. They get to figure out who they are without having to meet the expectations of anyone else. Yes, that's also the point of the book.

    There was something about the island that made the girls forget who they had been. All those rules and shalt nots. They were no longer waiting for some arbitrary grade. They were no longer performing. Waiting. Hoping.
    They were becoming.
    They were. (15.58-60)

    The words Bray uses here make a different between passive words and more active ones. The girls are doing things for themselves. They aren't passive anymore. They do things—including just be—based on their own decisions and desires, not those of anyone else.

    Adina was near tears. She was exhausted, so exhausted that she thought she imagined the sound. It was the faint rumble of a car engine, like something remembered from a dream. Something that reminded her of normalcy. (27.35)

    This shows how used to the island Adina has gotten. The sound of a car engine sounds like something that's dreamy and far away, instead of real.

    "At first, I was scared to be alone. No routines. No rules. Just me. But I think…" Taylor wiped a tear away. "I think I was always in the jungle. Before. It was always there. I think I had to come out here to find the answer." (37)

    This small line explains the former version of Taylor. She imposed all those routines and girls on the other girls because she felt like she needed them, and because she was so used to following them herself. For Taylor, isolation from the real word wasn't enough. She needed to be isolated from everyone to figure herself out.

  • Foolishness and Folly

    "Miss Florida was the only one who had bangs and she's de—um, she's no longer participating in the pageant system. So you'd really stand out."
    Miss New Mexico stared, dumbfounded. "Stand out? Stand out? I have a freaking tray stuck in my forehead!" She broke into fresh sobs.
    Taylor clapped for attention. "Miss New Mexico, let's not get all down in the bummer basement where the creepy things live. There are people in heathen China who doesn't even have airline trays. We have a lot to be grateful for." (3.58-60)

    How amazing is it that no one really cares that Miss New Mexico has an airline tray permanently lodged in her forehead?

    "Or—ooh! I know: 'Safe Tween Crush'?"
    "That one is so awesome!" Tiara began to sing. "Wanna rock you, girl, with a butterfly tunic. / No, I'm not gay, I'm just your emo eunuch. / Gonna smile real shy, won't cop a feel. / 'cause I'm your virgin crush, your supersafe deal." (8.52-53)

    This joke is so meta. Lyrics to a boy band song about the appeal of boy bands for little girls. Ironically its attempt to avoid sexual content makes it seem almost as raunchy as some of those subtle innuendo songs (does anyone else remember "Liquid Dreams"?).

    "I'm dockin' you another twenty-five cents for your potty mouth and bad attitude, Miss New Hampshire."
    "Fine. Let me just go to the JUNGLE ATM TO GET A WITHDRAWAL!" (9.53-54)

    Taylor is really big on overly PC clichés. Leave it to Adina to bring out the weirdness in Taylor's basically nonsensical ways to keep everyone on their best behavior.

    "Soon, we will have our weapons. I will release the videotape, and we will be famous on American TV. Sing along, General Good Times."
    General Good Times did not respond. (10.99-100)

    …Because General Good Times is a stuffed animal.

    DiscomfortWear, shapewear designed to eliminate rolls, ripples, and muffin tops. In some cases known to eliminate circulation and breathing. If you're not uncomfortable, it's not DiscomfortWear. (11.F.24)

    If shapewear commercials decided not to lie, this is how they would go.

    "Anyway, after my mom flipped out, my dad went off to rehab to heal his wounded chi and he got this spirit guide named Astral, who was kind of annoying because my dad would be all, 'Let's ask Astral about that,' even if it was just about whether or not to have Hamburger Helper for dinner, and my mom said she would personally kick Astral to the curb if he didn't shut up, so he went to Jesus rehab instead, and my mom sent me to sleepaway camp for the rest of the summer." (11.32)

    Uh, wow. Also, poor Tiara's mom. Her dad sounds like a hippie, spirit-world sort of stereotype gone (even more) insane. P.S.: This whole story is just leading up to Tiara saying that she thinks they should dig a ditch to capture water.

    The bespectacled good girl with the nice rack plunged the jousting lance—constructed in Latin club—through the hot alien cheerleader's stomach in a deeply Freudian display. "Hasta la vista, bitch." This is perfectly acceptable language. After all, that bad, bad girl IS stealing her boyfriend. (15.76-77, F.27)

    This is one of The Corporation's "alternate scenes" to the empowered displays of sexuality in Chapter Eleven. And also the definition of irony.

    Shanti sat next to Harris. "So let me get this straight: You booted the indigenous people off this land. You screwed up the environment. You tested products on helpless animals. Your 'Made in America' label is really made offshore. And now you're dealing illegal arms to a country we've levied sanctions against and you plan to murder us and then frame them for it so you can go to war and take over their resources? Any rights you didn't violate or laws you didn't break?" Harris thought for a second. "Our coffee is fair trade." (31.66-67)

    Sometimes Bray's jokes hit too close to home. If a company makes a big deal out of its fair trade coffee (or other little features that aren't so relevant to what it actually does), it might be a good idea to check out the company's other labor practices.

    Your Blood Is, Like, So Hot, the premium cable TV series about small-town predatory hemophiliacs who lie around looking anemic and sexy while trying not to bruise. Based on the French drama Le Monde C'est La Miemme (rough translation: Life is pain. Here is some soft cheese). (32.F.46)

    A vampire joke and a France joke all in one. Oui, le twilight.

    "See them, New Mexico?"
    "Not yet, Miss Ohi—do you think we could just call one another by our names?"
    Miss Ohio nodded. "Sure thing, Caitlin."
    "Thanks, Caitlin," Miss New Mexico answered. "Caitlin, I see them. They're coming from your right."
    "Which Caitlin?" Miss Montana asked. "Me or Caitlin Arkansas?"
    "Um, Caitlin Montana.
    "Ugh. That just makes me sound like a porn star," Miss Montana complained.
    "Do you have a middle name? Maybe that would make it easier?"
    "Yeah. It's Ashley," Miss Montana said.
    "That's my middle name too," Miss New Mexico said.
    "And mine," Miss Arkansas shrugged apologetically.
    "Mine's Ashlee with two e's," Miss Ohio offered. (37.39-49)

    It's like the Beauty Queens version of the Who's on First comedy sketch. Someone needs a new "baby names" book.

  • Gender

    "I don't know, maybe it's a Midwestern thing, but where I'm from, you're not supposed to brag about yourself. That's what my mom says. She says you should wait for people to recognize your good qualities. And then you should say, like, 'Oh no. I'm not really that great at whatever-it-is. I'm just okay.' And then they'll say, 'No really. You're great.' And you say, 'I'm really not, but thanks anyway for saying so.' And they'll say, 'Yes, you are. You so are!' And you say, 'Gee, do you really think so?' And they'll say, 'Totally!' And then people think you're good at whatever it is you're good at, but they don't think you're braggy about it 'cause that makes you seem like a real tool. Plus it's unladylike." (4.8)

    What Mary Lou is saying is sadly so real. A lot of people look down on girls who admit to being proud of themselves for things that they should be legitimately proud of themselves for. Which is why a lot of girls find themselves doing these long verbal dances so it doesn't sound like they are bragging.

    Shanti clapped a hand over her mouth and fought to regain her composure. Carefully, she lifted her fingers, which no longer felt like her fingers but like butterflies, light and free. "Why didn't you tell us, Tiara?" "I didn't want to bother you." (8.119-120)

    Tiara didn't tell the other girls that she was hallucinating because she was afraid of bothering them. That's a pretty big-deal thing to hide.

    "It is important for girls to be likeable." "But why?" Shanti asked. If Mrs. Mirabov had an answer, she wasn't sharing. (8.160-162)

    This time it's Shanti's turn to be hallucinating. But the hallucination makes a good point. Likeability is definitely a part of pageant scoring, but does it have any bearing on real life? Mrs. Mirabov's hallucinated silence is as good an answer as any.

    "You have a wang-dang-doodle!" Tiara squeaked.
    "Is that all that makes a guy a guy? What makes a girl a girl?"
    And the girls found they could not answer. For they'd never been asked that question in the pageant prep. (9.82-84)

    Transgender activists often make the point that Petra is making here: being one gender or the other is about more than just genitals. After all, the pageant girls experience being "girls" a lot differently from young females who play sports, or do other, less beauty-based activities—so if there are multiple kinds of girls, gender might not be as black-and-white as lots of folks are taught to think. At least Petra is getting the girls to think about it.

    "Like it's so much pressure all the time and if you get upset or angry, people say, 'Are you on the rag or something?' And it's like I want to say, 'No. I'm just pissed off right now. Can't I just be pissed off? How come that's not okay for me?' Like my dad will say, 'I can't talk to you when you're hysterical.' And I'm totally not being hysterical! I'm just mad. And he's the one losing it. But then I feel embarrassed anyway. So I slap on that smile and pretend everything's okay even though it's not." (13.139)

    Miss Montana doesn't feel like she is allowed to be angry, even though her father is. She's just labeled as emotional, and possibly PMS-ing, because she's female. Double standard, anyone?

    "Why do girls always feel like they have to apologize for giving an opinion or taking up space in the world? Have you ever noticed that?" Nicole asked. "You go on websites and some girl leaves a post and if it's longer than three sentences or she's expressing her thoughts about some topic, she usually ends with, 'Sorry for the rant' or 'That may be dumb, but that's what I think.'" (13.142)

    This remind you of anything? It's sort of like how Tiara didn't tell the girls useful information before because she was worried about bothering them. She didn't feel like she was important enough to take up space in their conversation. That may be a dumb quote to include, but it fits into the topic. (And no, we're not sorry.)

    Good God! All you had to do was introduce the scent of testosterone and perfectly capable, together girls were reduced to giggling, lash-batting, hair-playing idiots. She hated when girls did this. When they got all goo-goo-eyed over Y chromosome-carrying creatures instead of taking care of themselves. (21.78)

    Adina has a point. The beauty queens built their shelter and caught their food themselves, but they just give it to the pirates (who did no work) without a second thought. Not to mention tune their IQ's down by about 50. Sigh.

    The other guard shrugged. "They're a bunch of girls. How dangerous could they be?" (30.81)

    Famous last words.

    "You bitches!" a guard snarled at Miss Montana. "Excuse me? You try to kill us, we defend ourselves, and we get called bitches? So typical!" Miss New Mexico head butted the man, knocking him out with her tray. (37.57-58)

    Miss New Mexico was right. That was a really unfair insult. Lucky she had a tray stuck in her forehead to get back at this dude.

    "And what did you find?"
    "I love myself. They make it so hard for us to love ourselves." (37.115)

    Who do you think is they "they" Taylor is referring to here? Here's a hint: it's not just people out to kill her.

  • Identity

    Watching Taylor, sunkissed and bronzed and effortless, Petra felt jealous and more than a little out of her league. What was she doing here? What did she hope to prove? That she, Petra West, had just as much right to the Miss Teen Dream crown as all these other girls? That there was beauty in her too? She could still drop out, she supposed. (6.10)

    In the beginning, there was insecurity. Even fabulous Petra can't stop comparing her looks to someone else's.

    In her head, Nicole heard her mother's voice, the million-and-one times she'd turned to Nicole with an "Isn't that right, baby?" or "Nicole agrees with her mama, don't you?" She heard her mother's voice and she gave the response she'd always wanted to give. "I don't know what you're talking about." (10.41)

    Go Nicole! That rebuke may be in her head, but it's as big a rebellion as she's ever had. Away from her mom, she's finally able to stop going along with what other people tell her to do and think.

    Jennifer watched, awestruck, at Sosie's grace and power and utter lack of self-consciousness. For most of her life, Jennifer had learned to hold her emotions in check. But it was obvious that Sosie had full access to hers, and Jennifer felt envious of her ease. She wondered why she'd held so tightly to her feelings for so long, and if it might be possible to give them some slack. (12.32)

    For Jennifer, it takes watching someone else she likes to make her realize how she wants to feel. Love plus admiration can lead to a whole new stake on one's own self.

    "My parents want me to do the Miss USA pageant after I'm too old for this one," she said. Petra sidled up next to her. "Is that what you want to do?" Tiara gave the smallest of shrugs. "It's all I know how to do. I did my first pageant when I was two weeks old." (13.32-34)

    Tiara's pageant princess persona comes more from routine than desire. The fact that she's always done pageants makes her scared that she can't do something new. Especially since her parents have never let her try something new. Maybe not listening to what other people say about you has something to do with identity?

    Sosie wasn't sure how to answer. Since she could remember, she'd had crushes on both girls and guys. They were person-specific infatuations—Brian Levithan's wicked sense of humor was every bit as sexy as Valerie Martinez's sweet smile and amazing krunk routines. It seemed odd to Sosie that she had to make some hard-and-fast decision about such an arbitrary, individual thing as attraction, like having to declare an orientation major: I am straight with a minor in gay. (15.40)

    Sosie isn't sure how her attractions to people of different genders define her, so she resists any sort of label. It's probably a good call.

    "If we were onstage right now in front of the judges, you know what I would say when they asked me my life goals? I would say, 'You know what? Let me get back to you. I'm still figuring it out.'" (17.51)

    When you think about it, it's unfair of the judges to ask teenage girls what they want to do with their lives. Most people take a lot longer than age 16 to decide, so why shouldn't beauty queens get that kind of a break too?

    "M' parents are still very much in love. We have this old piano, and on Friday nights we'd sing and eat beans on toast and watch telly all together and have a laugh. It's a nice, comfortable life. That's the tragedy of it. I've got no dark secrets. I love my family and mates. I'm just as content playing darts as I am waiting for the bus. I see beauty in everything. I'm a happy person," Sinjin said with utter sincerity. "God. That's awful, isn't it?" (22.61)

    Sinjin's backstory (which is that he has no tragic backstory) is kind of refreshing after reading about all the different Teen Dreams' deep wounds. It actually sets him apart. We could say it's just a guy thing, but it's really just about Sinjin getting a lucky draw.

    She welcomed the pain. The pain reminded her that she was a dancer, that she was someone named Sosie. Lately, she wasn't so clear about who or what she was. It was as if she'd become merged—SosieandJennifer—and she missed being herself. (22.251)

    When you're alone on a desert island, relationships move fast. No wonder Sosie is trying to grasp at who she is, and not let her relationship with Jennifer consume her whole identity.

    "I just wanted to be somebody."
    "You are somebody," Adina said. "You're Taylor Rene Krystal Hawkins. And you know a lot about the military, dance, bathing suits, kicking ass, and handling firearms." (32.46-47)

    Even while brain-addled, Taylor holds all the skills that Adina names. That's a lotta skills. Adina reminds Taylor that she's impressive—and she is, whether in a beauty pageant or defending the girls from assassins. Don't be so hard on yourself, Tay Tay.

    "I can't believe I used to worry so much about people not liking me. Seems so unnecessary now," Nicole said, watching a group of black shirts laughing over some private joke. "I swear, if I get out of this, I'm going to tell my mom to back off and let me live my own life." (33.11)

    Priorities. They seem to become clear when faced with possible death. If Nicole will get to keep living, she wants to live the life she wants, not the one her mother chose for her. And that's a lesson for all young women to take to heart.

  • Race

    Nicole did what she'd been taught when she was little and her parents had moved into an all-white neighborhood: She smiled and made herself seem as friendly as possible. It's what she did when she met the parents of her friends. There was always that split second—something almost felt rather than seen—when the parents' faces would register a tiny shock, a palpable discomfort with Nicole's "otherness." And Nicole would smile wide and say how nice it was to come over. She would call the parents Mr. or Mrs., never by their first names. Their suspicion would ebb away, replaced by an unspoken but nonetheless palpable pride in her "good breeding," for which they should take no credit but did anyway. (2.29)

    The problem with having to do this is it makes Nicole feel like a trespasser. She has to do all the work of fitting in rather than taking it for granted that she belongs.

    In the forty-year history of the Miss Teen Dream Pageant, she was the only African-American winner—until it was revealed that Sherry had once shoplifted eye shadow from an Easy Rx store and she was drummed out in shame. It didn't matter that in the years since then, two white contestants had been disqualified for sexy phone photos, or that last year's winner, Miss Florida, had been forced to apologize when it was discovered that she had gotten drunk at a frat party and a video surfaced of her sloppily twirling batons in her underwear and bra. No, it was still Sherry Sparks they talked about. (6.92)

    It's clear that a lot of people broke the rules in the Miss Teen Dream pageant. So why do you think people focused on Sherry Sparks' scandal? Wouldn't the sloppy baton-twirling be a better target?

    "What happened to you?" Nicole said, going down the line. "You used to play Bach on the viola and work at a nonprofit after school. You wanted to go to London and start that cool underground theater and you never, ever moonwalked. And you…you were Episcopalian." Number 3 swiveled her head perfectly. "Not no more, sugar." (8.225-226)

    Sure, this happens in the unreal world of Nicole's hallucination, but that doesn't mean it's not important. Nicole imagines all the former Black beauty pageant contestants having turned into stock, sassy television side characters. And it feels like a nightmare.

    "They were here. My people talk about it still. How they came to drill and mine. They violated the land and tested products on the animals. Made them very sick, killed a lot of them." (15.12)

    The Corporation didn't think of the land as belonging to the people who lived there, because they didn't see them as good enough to negotiate with. They just took the land from them. Classic colonialist move.

    Instead, she sat through countless DVR-ed episodes of the Girl with Attitude who came in to swivel her head, snap out a one-liner, and fall back like a background singer. They had one thing in common, though—they were all light-skinned. (16.13)

    There's more than one level of messed-up in what Nicole is forced to watch. It's messed up that Black girls can only get background parts, and that the only girls getting parts at all are lighter-skinned. No wonder Nicole is so nervous she bites her nails.

    "They want the Indian girl whose parents sacrificed everything to give her the American dream. They don't want some Valley girl whose parents, like, shop at Nordstrom and have a housekeeper named Maria. They want Princess Priya. That's the story they were looking for. That's the story that makes them feel good. That's the story that wins every time. So that's the story I gave them." (16.70)

    Sheesh, so much for being genuine. Why do you think an immigrant story makes the audience feel good? Why does Shanti believe it so much that she lies about her own history?

    Despite being unable to move, both Shanti and Nicole managed to free their hands for one last, sisters-in-non-white-dominant-culture-solidarity hand clasp. It was a very cool hand clasp, the kind white kids across America will try to emulate in about six months, just before an avant-garde white pop starlet turns it into a hit single and makes lots of money. (16.96)

    See also: twerking.

    Afterward, she stood with her mother in the busy Doubletree Hotel hallway, girls posing and pirouetting all around, while her mother talked to the coach. "What can she do to improve her chances? What are the judges looking for?" her mother had asked. The coach had hemmed and hawed and looked uncomfortable. "Don't be too ethnic," she'd finally said. And Nicole felt her mother's hand tighten on her shoulder for a second, saw the pull at her jaw. "Thank you," her mother had said. They'd walked in silence to the car. (17.31)

    In case you were still wondering whether Nicole was lying when she claimed in the beginning that she didn't think the pageant was racist, here's your proof. Nicole got to Miss Teen Dream by following the coach's advice.

    "What happened to the people who used to live here?" Shanti asked.
    "Relocated."
    "Where?"
    "To places where relocated people go. Trust me, they're better off," Ms. Smith said crisply. (28.41-44)

    This corporate employee gives the ultimate non-answer here. She doesn't think of the indigenous people of the island as important, so she has no idea where they were even sent to live. But she's certain they're better off—who wouldn't be when a white Corporation comes along and takes charge?

    Shanti's smile did not falter. She stood in perfect three-quarter beauty queen stance. "Like, for instance, let's just say that The Corporation had a secret outpost here on this island. First, they would clear the land of indigenous peoples and force them from their ancestral homes, killing them if they were, like, really difficult or whatever. You know how those indigenous people can be about their land and stuff, Adina." (34.13)

    Gotta love Shanti for exposing The Corporation's racist practices on national TV. And via sarcasm at that. She's come a long way from exaggerating her immigrant story for the judges.

  • Cunning and Cleverness

    "All right, Teen Dreamers. These are our tools. Starting today, we are adding a new survival skills portion to our pageant. I want you to treat this with the seriousness you would your other duties, like tanning and exfoliation. You need to wow the judges. Think about what you can make with what we've got." (11.6)

    Do we detect a grain of empowerment in this otherwise stereotypical beauty-queen speech? The girls do know how to work hard, even if it's usually at things like tanning. Channeling that drive into survival may be a good idea.

    "Well, I was just thinking that if we dig out the sand like a latrine and stretch the dress across it and hold it down with some rocks or something, maybe the water would catch in there?" "How's that going to help?" Miss Ohio asked. "Hold on." Shanti pulled the dress taut. She surveyed the sand around it. "That could work." (11.38-40)

    Tiara almost didn't share this idea, but it's good she did. This weird dress-stretching contraption allows the beauty queens to get drinking water for the first time since they crashed. Guess Tiara is smarter than she sometimes seems.

    "It's solar hibachi," Miss Ohio explained, serving up a perfectly done fillet. "I used a safety razor to descale the fish, rinsed it in a little of the freshwater, and now…" Using the handle of a hairbrush, she scooped up the fish and dropped it onto a mound of clean rocks. (11.55)

    Repurposing beauty tools for the win! This is a truly ingenious way to grill some fish.

    "You know, instead of some old, backassward pageant competition, we should have a con. A Girl Con! How awesome would that be?" Adina said. "What would we do at a Girl Con?" Jennifer asked, giving the words a cheesy announcer's voice. "We could have some wicked cool workshops—writing, film, science, music, consciousness-raising…." (13.164-166)

    Adina sparks a whole discussion with the idea of having an event where the girls would be teachers instead of getting judged. They actually all have a lot to offer. Ain't that inspiring?

    "Oh, I know how you feel," Tiara said. "When our plane crashed here, and we had to bury the dead and deal with really bad wounds and Miss New Mexico got that tray stuck in her head—" "Hi!" Miss New Mexico waved. "—and the chaperones were all charred in the wreckage and it was really gross and scary and there was nothing to eat and no shelter and we had to build all that stuff and deal with giant snakes and bug bites and we barely survived a giant wave and mudslides and hallucinogenic plans and stuff, we were so, so tired." (21.20-22)

    Tiara's earnestness is what makes this line so funny. She's responding to Sinjin, who claims to be tired and lies down in her bed. His tiredness from getting his boat to the island doesn't quite compare to the tiredness of what the Teen Dreams faced after their crash. But you know, points for empathy.

    "It's kind of a mix-up, messed-up world we're inheriting," Shanti said. "When we get back, we should do something to change that." "Add that to Girl Con," Adina said. (22.136-137)

    Not only does Shanti recognize a lot of the world's problems, she thinks she can change them. Do you think she would have felt that way in the beginning of the book? Yet another dose of island inspiration.

    For the better part of several days, everyone worked together. Using two of the girls' rescued suitcases, they bailed as much water as they could and then scraped the hull of barnacles. Petra and George, whose mother was a seamstress, mended sails. Using a machete, Nicole, Ahmed, and Sosie took turns cutting a tree into lumber. Jennifer had found a tool kit with a hammer and a collection of mismatched nails and was ready to go. (21.163)

    Extreme island DIY! The Teen Dreams (and reality TV pirates) have moved from waiting to be rescued to preparing for their own self-rescue. And they don't teach this stuff in arts and crafts.

    After attacking the guards, she'd relieved them of their weapons and buried them in a shallow storage pit near Our Lady. The trip wires had not been easy to rig. She'd had to go deeper into the jungle to find vines that were strong enough, and she'd had to make sure they were low enough to the ground so as not to be seen. One wrong step and that person would be hoisted high in the trees to dangle by a foot until they passed out or Taylor was feeling merciful, whichever came first. Probably the passing out. She'd dug two deep holes. These she covered with leaves and branches and marked with tiny crosses so that she would remember not to step there. But oh, there was so much to do still. (24.2)

    It's amazing how efficient Taylor has been, considering she's been tripping from hallucinogenic darts the entire time she was setting up these insane booby traps.

    "I swear, if I get out of this, I'm going to tell my mom to back off and let me live my own life." "I'm going to law school and start changing some things," Miss Ohio said. (33.11-12)

    Nothing like getting in a plane crash, being stuck on an island, and defeating an evil Corporation to make you evaluate your life choices. Before this point, Miss Ohio's dream was to be on reality television. This experience, especially coming face-to-face with The Corporation's corruption, has her dreaming much bigger.

    Dumb. It's what everyone had said, when she'd struggled in school or asked questions that made people laugh behind their hands: "Don't worry about it. You're a pretty girl. You'll be fine." But Tiara had worried about it. She felt like someday there would be a test that didn't involve getting an A in pretty, and she would fail it. That test day had come. (37.15)

    Poor Tiara was not taught to value education at all, because she was pretty. We just want to tell her she knows more than she thinks. Just think of that water-catching dress, after all.

  • Lust

    Nicole shook her head. "Public school Sex Non-Ed. When I'm surgeon general, I am so fixing that." On the walk, she explained hormonal, and Tiara nodded, smiling. (8.17)

    Abstinence education only taught Tiara to fear sex and her body. And you'd think a bit of biology or a useful fact or two would be a better teaching method. And that's just what Nicole is out to fix.

    In school, they would tell you that life wouldn't come to you; you had to go out and make it your own. But when it came to love, the message for girls seemed to be this: Don't. Don't go after what you want. Wait. Wait to be chosen, as if only in the eye of another could one truly find value. The message was confusing and infuriating. It was a shell game with no actual pea under the rapidly moving cups. (11.124)

    The idea that women aren't allowed to be forward about what they want in love, but should be that way about other parts of their life, is kind of a contradiction. Sure, these beauty queens seem to think being forward about anything is a big no-no—but luckily, that's just at first.

    A minute ago, he had been doing much the same to her. Why couldn't she answer in kind? She pressed her lips to his, tasting, enjoying, wanting. The itching in her palms began. But this time, it spread fast as a brush fire on a windy day. Her hunger was uncontrollable. Billy's eyes widened at the sight of her in her wild state. "What's wrong with you?" (14.9-10)

    Why do you think Billy asked Mary Lou what was wrong with her, when they seemed to want the same thing?

    That was the shameful part—how good it felt to command her body in this way. How erotic the thrill of it! Like a caged beast finally allowed to hunt. Her mother called it a curse, and she understood that it was, that she had to control her urges. But somewhere deep down, she loved the sheer heady freedom of it. In this state, she was not afraid of the jungle, but part of it. (14.55)

    Mary Lou thinks she's acting the wrong way, running through the jungle naked. But she still likes the feeling. She hasn't quite accepted her wild side, but she's on the right path. And running that path, no less.

    The Corporation would like to apologize for the preceding pages. Of course, it's not all right for girls to behave this way. Sexuality is not meant to be this way—an honest, consensual expression in which a girl might take an active role when she feels good and ready and not one minute before. No. Sexual desire is meant to sell soap. And cars. And beer. And religion. (15.61)

    Well hello, satire. Between a naked Mary Lou kissing Tane and the kissing between Jennifer and Sosie, The Corporation is running into trouble. Neither scene falls into stereotypes at all. And The Corporation thrives on stereotypes. Just like Bray thrives on satirizing them.

    Adina tugged on the line and it moved easily. Duff trudged back through the waves. His body glistened in the sun. Why was her heart speeding up? It was an autonomic betrayal. Stop it, she told her senses. Stop being so dumb. (21.106)

    Adina thinks being attracted to a boy at all is dumb. She doesn't want to end up like her mother, so she tries to deny any feelings she might have for the glistening pirate in front of her.

    Duff's little moans traveled up her spine, made her head buzz. And another thought grabbed hold: She was doing this. She had the power to do this. That she could be both completely vulnerable and totally in control was mind-blowing. (22.244)

    Adina's fallen pretty hard for this Duff guy. Here, she's marveling at how good it feels to have sex with him. And feeling empowered at the same time. Sounds like a win-win.

    Her mother had told her they were cursed women. But in this moment, it seemed to Mary Lou that the curse was in allowing yourself to be shamed. To let the world shape your desire and love into a cudgel with which to drive you back into a cave of fear. And Mary Lou had had enough. (23.29)

    Watching Adina feel bad for having sex, even though she'd wanted to and liked it, makes Mary Lou abandon the idea of the curse altogether. If there is curse, she thinks, it comes from letting yourself feel bad about your feelings. File that one away in life lessons to remember.

    "I don't know about you, but if I'm gonna be chained to a rock by the gods, I'd rather go out as the person who brought fire back from the mountain than as a pure princess who didn't have the sense to say to everyone, 'Oh, hell no, you are not sacrificing me to some sea monster!'" (29.30)

    While being dangled above a piranha tank, Tane and Mary Lou talk Geek mythology—er, Greek mythology. Our wild Mary Lou would rather go down fighting than following the rules.

    Part of her wanted to kiss Duff McAvoy, the tortured British trust-fund-runaway-turned-pirate-of-necessity who loved rock 'n' roll and mouthy-but-vulnerable-bass-playing girls from New Hampshire. But he didn't exist. Not really. He was a creature of TV and her imagination, a guy she'd invented as much as he'd invented himself. And this was what she suddenly understood about her mother: how with each man, each husband, she was really trying to fill in the sketchy parts of herself and become somebody she could finally love. It was hard to live in the messiness and easier to believer in the dream. And in that moment, Adina knew she was not her mother after all. (41.15)

    Whoa—this is a pretty big realization. Adina's not anti-sex, but she makes the decision not to use boys to give her a sense of self-worth. That's a girl power moment. Boom.