Study Guide

Beauty Queens Summary

By Libba Bray

Beauty Queens Summary

Reader, be warned! This book is a roller-coaster of wacky and snark. Like the beauty pageant passengers on the plane that's about to nosedive, you're in for a ride.

The Corporation starts us out by talking to readers directly, telling us not to be afraid. Yeah, okay. Then it describes a plane crashing. On board are teen beauty queen contestants from all 50 states.

Adina (Miss New Hampshire) and Mary Lou (Miss Nebraska) find each other first on the beach. Soon a girl with a Texan twang calls for all the survivors' attention. She is Taylor Rene Krystal Hawkins, and she is extremely bossy and even more perky. Which is worse? You'll just have to wait and see.

Taylor wants everyone to practice their pageant routines, while Adina protests that they should be focusing on survival—you know, trivial things like finding water and shelter. They decide to elect a group leader, but unfortunately, Adina brags too much in her campaign speech (very unladylike) and Taylor wins by a landslide.

The girls go to sleep by a campfire, with Adina taking first watch. She sees lights flickering in the distance.

Turns out those lights are coming from a corporation inside a volcano. Yeah, you read that right. The scene switches to a man named Agent Jones video-chatting with his boss about the girls on the island. The boss says that nothing can interfere with Operation Peacock, and the official word should be that the plane crash had no survivors. The plot thickens.

The next morning, the girls are in pageant prep mode. At least, until a monsoon starts and waves chase the girls back into the island. As they run, they scatter into three groups.

Jennifer runs deep into the jungle. She encounters a new beauty queen carrying a spear. After they both almost get killed by a giant snake, Jennifer learns that the girl's name is Sosie, and she's Miss Illinois. Sosie leads Jennifer to a ruined temple where she's found military rations, plus several jars of Lady 'Stache Off, a hair removing product. Good combo?

Meanwhile, Petra, Nicole, Shanti, and Tiara are walking back to the beach, and Tiara eats a star-shaped fruit. She seems okay, so they all eat the fruit. Uh-oh: turns out it's hallucinogenic. They each go into weird dream-states that show their insecurities: Shanti about not being in control or likeable, Nicole about becoming nothing more than what her mother and society want her to be, and Petra about becoming her true self. It's pretty existential.

Back to Agent Jones. He's dealing with a dumb intern named Harris, the son of the company's former CEO. They go into a meeting, and Agent Jones describes Operation Peacock. The gist is that The Corporation wants to set up shop on the island of a crazy dictator, MoMo ChaCha, and he's cool with it but wants explosives in exchange. There's a ban on trading with him, so the operation is covert (um, like a peacock?). The Corporation has hidden explosives inside jars of one of Lady 'Stache Off.

Everyone eventually makes it back to the beach, and the Teen Dreams have a meeting.

They decide this time to focus on survival (ya think?). But to make it less dull, they'll treat finding ways to survive as a pageant category. The teen dreams create fishing lines, find fish-cooking methods, and build huts. They also all construct weapons using beauty products. And they do it all with those prize-winning, pearly-white smiles.

The whole group (except Taylor, who keeps practicing) has a campfire where they talk about what they miss and don't miss about their former lives. They decide that instead of a beauty pageant, they'd love to hold a Girl Con where they could lead workshops on things they're good at (but have makeovers too—can't go too far astray). Taylor admonishes them for giving up on Miss Teen Dream, but they say that after all they've built, they're beyond beauty pageants.

They're turning out to be beyond other things they took for granted, too. Mary Lou loses her purity ring, which is supposedly her protection against the curse of being a "wild woman." Right.

With it off, she runs naked through the jungle and encounters a boy name Tane, who claims to be a student studying the science of birds on the island. She kisses him, because that's the natural response to bird students. The next day, Tane tells her the truth: his people are actually from the island. A company called The Corporation kicked his people off the island and now he's trying to find The Corporation and spy on it.

Nicole heads out into the jungle and finds the ruins and temple. Shanti, who has followed her, accuses her of trying to get ahead. When Nicole asks why Shanti doesn't like her, Shanti admits it's because she sees Nicole as competition. Um, aren't they all competition in this pageant thing? But specifically, Shanti thinks the judges will only allow one non-white contestant into the top five.

Getting too real? Well, that's when she starts to sink into quicksand.

As she calls for Nicole to help her, her voice changes from a British-inflected Indian accent to straight-up Valley Girl. Shanti admits that she pretended to be more like the judges' dream version of an immigrant to be more likeable (social commentary alert!). Nicole tries to help her but gets pulled in, too. But after that much racial awareness, the two main characters of color—and more social commentary—can't be killed off, so eventually the girls find a root and pull themselves out.

When they return to camp, Jennifer has fixed the radio. The contestants listen to an interview with The Corporation CEO Ladybird Hope, who says that they've called off the search, presuming the girls dead. Taylor can't believe the pageant would abandon her, so she runs into the jungle.

Taylor comes across some men in black shirts talking. They say they're going to kill the Teen Dream contestants because they don't want any rescuers arriving and observing their activities on the island. Taylor reveals herself and beats them up like a ninja (seriously? Tay Tay?), but as she runs away, Agent Jones shoots her with four tranquilizer darts, which are full of juice from hallucinogenic fruit.

Thinking she ate the fruit, the girls find Taylor and carry her back to camp, but Taylor, mind-addled, sneaks into the jungle. They find her babbling to herself and constructing a fake sculpture of a beauty pageant contestant. Needless to say, they don't realize Taylor's been beating down on black shirts who keep trying to sneak toward the beach to kill the girls.

Adina takes charge of the group. Mary Lou tells them about Tane, but when she tries to lead the girls to him, he isn't there.

Time for another twist. A boat sails toward them and hits a rocky cliff, tearing a hole in its side. The girls rescue the boys on the ship, who turn out to be the actors on Captain Bodacious, a reality TV show about good-looking British schoolboys-turned-pirates. The captain, Sinjin, likes Petra, while a crew member named Duff chases after Adina. This paragraph sounds like a joke, but it's not.

The beauty queens and pirates get to know each other as they repair the ship. Sinjin and Petra pair off, and that seems to work out. Duff, on the other hand, convinces Adina to have sex with him, but Adina finds out the next day that he filmed it, which puts him up there with The Corporation in terms of bad eggs. She cries to Mary Lou, and Mary Lou punches Duff out. Fair.

Adina finds a body in the water. The pirates, who are on the run from The Corporation after witnessing human trafficking, worry that they've brought danger to the girls. They secretly sail away in the night. Way to not take responsibility, guys. Are we feeling the critique on gender relations yet?

In the morning, Mary Lou searches for Tane. She witnesses men going into the volcano, but a gun is put to her head before she can return to tell the others. The rest of the Teen Dreams wake up, and after dealing with their disbelief that the pirates left with the ship, they look for Mary Lou.

Agent Jones finds them first. He pretends he's rescuing them and takes them into The Corporation's volcano-building, and tells them Mary Lou has gone home. Suspicious. They feel like something's wrong, so they don't tell him about Taylor.

On the bright side, the girls are fed and allowed to shower. Then they Skype with Ladybird Hope, who asks them to do a pageant on the island to show their gratitude for the Corporation. The girls reluctantly agree. Later, in bed, they start suspecting that something is wrong. Why would they let Mary Lou leave and ask the rest of them to stay for a pageant?

They sneak around to try to figure out what's going on. They're caught by Harris, who tells them The Corporation is going to kill them during their pageant and blame their deaths on MoMo ChaCha. The Teen Dreams tie up Harris and find Mary Lou and Tane. They leave Harris in the caves and come up with a plan.

The girls practice their "pageant" while Adina goes into the jungle to ask Taylor for help, but Taylor doesn't seem to be coherent enough. MoMo ChaCha hears about the pageant when he arrives on the island and insists on watching.

The pageant starts out normally until it's time for the interview portion. Adina asks the questions, and Shanti casually brings up how corporations have treated the island's native people. Burn. Speaking of burn, their plan is to ignite Lady 'Stache Off bombs at the audience with a flame-thrower, but the flame-thrower gets stuck and they can't activate the bombs. Bummer.

Then Taylor's sculpture shows up—which is a perfect distraction, and also a bomb. The girls run into the jungle as it goes off, and have several face-offs with Corporation black shirts. Harris almost kills Tiara and Petra, but a giant snake swallows him just in time. Thanks, giant snake.

Mary Lou and Tane commandeer MoMo's yacht in the meantime, and Mary Lou finds a tape of MoMo and Ladybird having sex. This is definitely the climax (and we're not just talking MoMo and Ladybird).

Everyone takes cover in The Corporation break room. Ladybird Hope appears onscreen, telling them she has enough footage to frame MoMo for their death. She presses a button and MoMo's shoes explode, killing him. Then she locks all the doors and programs the building to self-destruct. During the countdown, Agent Jones, who has been shot with his own hallucinogenic darts, tells them they have to make a Powerpoint to shut down the self-destruct. Microsoft Office to the rescue! Luckily, they know how to stack a good slide deck.

There is what feels like an eruption (it's not the volcano: it's the Lady 'Stache Off bombs going off) and Nicole comes to on MoMo's yacht. She's just in time for the Teen Dreams to call into the talk show where Ladybird had planned to announce their deaths. On the air, they wave, blame Ladybird, and release the sex tape.

So they're home free, except for one weird thing. The sex scandal ends up overtaking all other news, including the fact that The Corporation tried to kill them and deal arms with ChaCha, which you'd sort of think would be even more serious. But the girls are pretty tough by now, so they move on.

The novel ends with a montage. The empowered Teen Dreams all dance, and we get little "where are they now" sketches of their futures.

Hint: they all do pretty well.