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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.