Study Guide

Beauty Queens Cunning and Cleverness

By Libba Bray

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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.

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