Study Guide

Beauty Queens Themes

  • Friendship

    When the boys in Lord of the Flies (i.e. the other book where children are shipwrecked on an island) are left together, they form gangs and kill off the loners. But when the teen beauty queens in this book are left on an island, the opposite happens. The more time they spend together, the more they get over their initial hostility and become friends. Aw.

    Some of them even find BFF material in a person they'd never befriend in their former lives: Tiara and Petra, Nicole and Shanti, Mary Lou and Adina. Turns out fighting for survival is the best ever bonding activity. Take that, Survivor.

    Questions About Friendship

    1. A lot of the girls find a best friend on the island. Why doesn't Taylor?
    2. Why does Adina initially resist making friends with the other contestants?
    3. Why is Petra so protective of Tiara?
    4. What finally causes Shanti and Nicole to become friends? What does that say about being a minority in a very white setting? What does it say about friendship in general?

    Chew on This

    Bray chose to make the beauty queens become friends to subvert stereotypes of girls and competition.

    Without the trust they build between them, the beauty queens would not overcome Ladybird Hope's plan.

  • Isolation

    You don't get more isolated than a (seemingly) uninhabited island. But that might be just what the Teen Dream contestants in this book need. See, the island is such a stark contrast to what our pageanted protagonists are used to, which is always being watched—and being judged, literally—for things as basic as the way they walk.

    For them, the isolation of the island means a break from being watched. They only have each other to impress, a goal that gives way pretty quickly to the goal of surviving. The Teen Dreams eat bugs, build huts, and turn their beauty products into weapons. And figuring out that they can fend for themselves changes each of the girls. Even isolation can have its perks.

    Questions About Isolation

    1. How does being separated from everyone in their lives help the Teen Dreams discover their true selves?
    2. Imagine that one of the adults on the airplane had survived. How might the Teen Dreams' time on the island be different?
    3. How does Taylor's hallucinogenic period affect her self-esteem?
    4. How many important conversations between beauty queens occur outside the beach, versus on it? What does the additional isolation of being away from the beach do for the characters?

    Chew on This

    The arrival of the pirates demonstrates how the girls have changed since they first crashed on the island.

    The deeper the girls go into the jungle on the island, the more they are able to confront their personal demons.

  • Foolishness and Folly

    Some satires are more mocking than funny. Beauty Queens does not fall into that category. It's never cruel to its main characters, and yet there are so many amazing lines poking humor at the situation or pop culture that they could fill a not-much-smaller sized book.

    Pull the humor out of Beauty Queens and you'd just have inspirational stories about teenage girls finding themselves. It wouldn't be quite as much fun, and there would be way fewer opportunities to think critically about our own, real, current world.

    Questions About Foolishness and Folly

    1. What role do the commercials play in Beauty Queens?
    2. Which characters have a real-life counterpart? Why?
    3. What do the names and descriptions of reality TV shows on Beauty Queens say about modern reality television?
    4. How does Bray use the naming of products in the world of Beauty Queens to evoke humor?

    Chew on This

    In The Corporation scenes, Bray uses humor that deals with the gap between actual aspects of modern corporate culture (like Casual Friday), and the killing people that is those characters' actual job, to make a point about real-life white-collar crime.

    The four beauty queens who don't have their own storylines (Miss New Mexico, Miss Montana, Miss Ohio, and Miss Arkansas) serve as a Greek chorus that shows how the stereotypical beauty queen would act, which is not very intelligently.

  • Gender

    At least half the sentences in this book say something about gender. Particularly, what it's like to be a girl, and what is expected of girls. As supposed models of traditional girlhood, most of the Teen Dreams believe they have to follow unspoken rules that dictate everything from how they can act around boys to how they're supposed to talk in general. Whew—that's a lot to remember.

    When they're in survival mode, though, the beauty queens can let some of those rules go. It's pretty cool to watch how self-assured they become when they're not trying hard to be likeable, humble, or any of the other stereotypes they think they have to live up to.

    Questions About Gender

    1. How do the beauty queens speak to try to sound more likeable?
    2. How are the beauty queens underestimated by the men on the island, and how does being underestimated help them achieve their goals?
    3. Why do the pirates sail away from the girls who helped them? How does their decision actually affect the girls?
    4. How does Adina act differently from the other girls? How is she similar?

    Chew on This

    The character of Adina, a feminist who is skeptical of beauty pageants, is meant to mirror the readers.

    Many of the Teen Dreams are victims of their upbringing and culture, rather than being evil enforcers of standards of beauty.

  • Identity

    Who am I? It's a question that most teenagers ask themselves at some point. So it should be no surprise that this question comes up for the teenage girls in this story, especially since basically every circumstance in their lives have changed. Surviving on an island with a hostile climate wasn't exactly on their to-do lists.

    In the beauty pageant, the girls have to make choices on how to present themselves. They have to have a platform and an answer for what they want to be when they grow up. How fair is that, though? Not every teenager's opinions or future plans are set in stone.

    A lot of these girls question the identity they'd taken for granted, or try to find a personal story that feels like it fits. Just your typical teenage identity exploration, but with a few more giant snakes.

    Questions About Identity

    1. How does Tiara emerge from her parents' shadow while she is on the island?
    2. Why does Sosie resist categorizing her sexual identity?
    3. What is Miss Ohio's plan for standing out, and why does she feel she needs to do it?
    4. What parts of Taylor's identity change and what parts hold strong over the course of the story?

    Chew on This

    It is not in dating Jennifer, but in breaking up with Jennifer, that Sosie figures out who she is.

    The beauty queens find their identities by being open about their feelings.

  • Race

    There are only two non-white Miss Teen Dream contestants: Shanti and Nicole. You might think that would bond them, but actually, it does the opposite. Shanti sees Nicole as her competition, because history tells her the judges won't let two people of color into the top five. It's a messed-up thing to know.

    It takes quicksand and some real talk for them to overcome their difference, and after that, they stand with each other. They even expose the truth about how badly The Corporation treated the native people from the island. And maybe make everyone just a little bit less comfortable believing a bunch of stereotypes.

    Questions About Race

    1. Why does Shanti think the audience will respond better to an immigrant story than to her true background?
    2. What is the significance of the three sassy Black sidekicks in Nicole's hallucination?
    3. Why does Nicole feel that she needs to put white people at ease when she meets them?
    4. Why do Shanti and Nicole initially say that the pageant isn't racist?

    Chew on This

    The reason Shanti initially resents Nicole has more to do with racism in the pageant than Nicole herself.

    Nicole's hallucination is all about how there aren't enough roles for Black women in Hollywood.

  • Cunning and Cleverness

    You may know the stereotype about beauty pageant girls: that they're airheads. In the beginning of the book, Tiara definitely fits this description. But since these supposed airheads have to survive, they need to be creative, collaborative, and technical. And they totally come through. Somewhere between building a system for clean drinking water and make a mace-like gun with makeup foundation, the girls realize that the stereotype is empty. Meanwhile, Adina gives Tiara lessons, calling it "smart school." A little condescending, but okay. By the end, Tiara can answer questions with both intelligence and confidence.

    Questions About Cunning and Cleverness

    1. What do you think is the most impressive Teen Dreamers' survival invention?
    2. What did people mean when they told Tiara that she would be fine because she is pretty? How did they think she would be fine?
    3. How do you think the pirates of Captain Bodacious would have fared on the island without the Teen Dreams?
    4. Why do Shanti and Miss Ohio want to change the world?

    Chew on This

    The idea of Girl Con shows the Teen Dreams' growing confidence in their own abilities.

    All the defense moves that Taylor makes in her hallucinogen-induced state are to protect her fellow Teen Dreams.

  • Lust

    When lust first appears in this book, the girls know that they aren't supposed to feel it. Or if they feel it, they shouldn't show it. Adina doesn't want to feel lust at all, because she's scared of chasing after boys the way her mom chases men. Mary Lou considers the primal desires she feels to be a curse, and wears a purity ring to help contain herself. But enough time on the island and, well, you can guess what happens. Sensing a pattern? Not only do some of the girls get it on, but they learn not to feel guilty about it.

    Questions About Lust

    1. What does Mary Lou believe the curse on her family does? How does her idea of the curse change?
    2. Why does Adina try to resist falling for Duff?
    3. Why does The Corporation present alternative images for the kissing scenes in Chapter 15?
    4. Why do you think our culture encourages girls to "wait to be chosen?"

    Chew on This

    Mary Lou's decision to try to risk swinging the rope rather than die passively is her final rejection of the curse on her family and all that it's supposed to mean.

    Mary Lou's and Adina's love affairs both encourage them to change into more fully realized versions of themselves.