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.