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Literature / Beauty Queens

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“Maybe girls need an island to find themselves. Maybe they need a place where no one’s watching them so they can be who they really are.”
Mary Lou Novak

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray is a story brought to you by The Corporation.

A plane of Beauty Contest contestants crash-lands on an uncharted island, where only a dozen women out of 50 survive. Along the way, they meet a bunch of guys pretending to be pirates (on a TV show brought to you by The Corporation), go insane and learn to survive. A Satire of the media and consumerism.

Tropes present:

  • Abusive Parents: Tiara's backstory. She says she can't remember the last time she felt full because her parents basically starved her and guilt-tripped her into preforming and preparing for pageants non-stop since she was two weeks old. Even her name "Tiara Destiny" fits into this.
  • Action Girl: By the end, all of the women. Taylor and Adina especially.
  • Acme Products: The Corporation.
  • Alpha Bitch: Taylor
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Frequent.
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  • Awesome Mc Coolname: Tiara Destiny Swan, until you realize her parents meant it to be a Meaningful Name.
  • Ax-Crazy: Taylor becomes this after eating too many berries. Or that's what the girls think. Agent Jones drugged her and made it look like she did it to herself. MoMo B. ChaCha is his own brand of ax crazy as well, sentencing people to death at the slightest provocation.
  • Beauty Contest: Duh.
  • Big Damn Heroes: The end. Everyone.
  • Bi the Way: Sosie, which is a source of some angst for her and leads to her breaking up with Jennifer because she's unsure if her feelings are real. The epilogue mentions that she's "currently dating a boy", which suggests that she's come to terms with her sexuality.
  • Black and Nerdy: Nicole is very smart and wants to be a doctor. However, unlike most examples of this trope, Beauty Queens explicitly discusses race.
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  • Black Best Friend: Nicole grew up with this as the only TV representation of anyone remotely like her. It gives her enough identity issues that she has a nightmare during the girls' Mushroom Samba moment.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Lampshaded by Nicole and Shanti as they begin to drown in quicksand. Also subverted.
  • Bland-Name Product: Babez dolls. And more.
  • Brainless Beauties: Miss Alabama and Miss Mississippi. However, in Tiara's case it is discussed- she knows she's not very smart and so relies on being pretty, even though it makes her feel terrible about herself and she's always terrified that "there would be a test that didn't involve getting an A in pretty" and that she will let people down. That being said, she does have some good ideas, like how to collect water and graduated college with a GPA of 3.75 in the epilogue.
  • Bound and Gagged: Agent Harris is bound with duct tape and gagged with a maxi pad.
  • Boy Band: Boyz Will Be Boyz. JT Woodland aka Petra is the cute one.
  • Break the Haughty: Happens to Adina and Taylor. They recover.
  • Butch Lesbian: Jennifer
  • But Liquor Is Quicker: Duff seduces Adina while she's drunk.
  • But Not Too Black: Averted and discussed. Nicole is very dark-skinned and her backstory discusses colourism in detail.
  • Caligula's Horse: MoMo B. ChaCha is so paranoid that his adviser is a taxidermied lemur named General Good Times.
  • Cast Speciation: Tiara and Brittani are both The Ditz and start out basically interchangeable. Tiara then undergoes Character Development and, while still stupid, shows her Hidden Depths throughout the story.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Confessions of a Pirate Casanova, the defense systems the girls make (Taylor wasn't lying about not needing to make one herself) and more. Subverted with Harris' bomb.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Tiara, Brittani, and to a lesser extent, Mary Lou.
  • Coming-of-Age Story
  • Commonality Connection: Shanti and Nicole start out by fighting over who gets to be the Token Minority, but eventually they bond over it and become best friends.
  • Consulting Mister Puppet: General Good Times for ChaCha and Miss Miss for Taylor.
  • Creepy Doll: The Ladybird Hope doll is described as soul-sucking. Tiara also believes that her childhood stuffed dinosaur was alive and evil.
  • Cut Himself Shaving: When asked what happened to the winner and the first runner up for Miss Michigan, Jennifer cracks her knuckles and says they fell. Subverted in that the original contestants actually couldn't compete for innocent reasons.
  • Dance Battler: Sosie, a gymnast, fights like this.
  • Dance Party Ending: The epilogue has all the character that got off the island having a dance party.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Many characters, particularly Petra, Adina and Jennifer.
  • Desert Island: Where the girls crash, becoming a throughly discussed and lampshaded trope.
  • Did I Just Say That Out Loud?: Agent Harris tells the girls The Corporation's plot to kill them, then says, 'Wait. I just said that out loud, didn't I? Damn."
  • Divine Intervention: In the beginning of the book, a fundamentalist girl starts singing that Jesus is their copilot in hopes that this will occur. Near the end, Shanti and Nicole are rescued by a wind they surmise must have come from the gods of the island's relocated indigenous people.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: It takes a lot of strife, danger, and borderline mental breakdowns, but the girls finally learn to be themselves.
  • Elvis Impersonator: MoMo B. ChaCha dresses up as Elvis to fuel his hypocritical obsession.
  • Ensemble Cast
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Some of the background contestants are only referred to by their states. Near the end, it's revealed that it's because they all have the same first name. And the same middle name.
  • Evil, Inc.: The Corporation.
  • Fictional Document: The Miss Teen Dream Fun Facts Pages and the commercial scripts.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Nicole and Shanti become friends after being sucked into quicksand. All the contestants become friends after living on the island together.
  • Footnote Fever
  • Foreshadowing: The "Fun Facts" pages.
  • Freudian Excuse: Taylor's mother abandoned her on a Journey to Find Oneself.
  • Handsome Lech: Duff the Pirate Casanova who blogs about his sexual exploits
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: Taylor starts out as irritating and crosses the line with her callous transphobic comments after Petra's reveal. However, when the radio is repaired and she realizes she's been wrong and her life is falling apart, she becomes more sympathetic, complete with Freudian Excuse. ...For all of one chapter until she's incapacitated. She's not dead, but she's been drugged out of her mind to keep her from revealing the Corporation's plan, and the others leave her be. Subverted later when you see that she's still fighting to regain her lucidity and she ends up saving the girls.
  • Hidden Depths: Most of the cast.
  • Hurricane of Puns: Petra and Sinjin trade Charles Dickens puns.
  • Important Haircut: Tiara has an emotional breakdown and chops her hair with a machete. Petra fixes it, giving her short spiky, "warrior princess hair."
  • Improbable Weapon: They make a catapult out of a shoe. The Corporation uses Lady Stache-Off Hair remover as an explosive.
  • Informed Judaism: Adina's Judaism comes up all of two times.
  • Inspirationally Disadvantaged: Sosie plays this up for the cameras, but in truth she's sick of it.
  • Irony: Taylor, the one most committed to the beauty pageant is the only one who does not participate.
  • Jungle Princess: By the end, Taylor has abandoned civilization and essentially become this.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Agent Jones is taken down when Taylor shoots him with a poison dart, the same kind he used to drug her for days.
  • Mad Love: Gender-flipped, with MoMo fawning over a disinterested and manipulative Ladybird.
  • The Men in Black: The agents of the Corporation.
  • Mushroom Samba: Weird, hallucinogenic fruit samba.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Ladybird Hope is clearly based on Sarah Palin and Agent Harris is George Bush. Word of God says that Sinjin is based on David Levithan.
  • Not with the Safety on, You Won't: Occurs when the girls have to take down Harris. This is Harris' eventual downfall when he forgets the safety in front of a killer snake.
  • Obfuscating Insanity: Taylor's not entirely sane, but she played up her insanity to make the Corporation underestimate her.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: In-character example. When Shanti is scared, she loses her fake British Indian accent and starts talking like a Valley Girl.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted. Miss Ohio, Miss Arkansas, Miss New Mexico and Miss Montana are all named Caitlyn. and their middle name is Asheley, although Ohio has two "e"s in hers.
  • Operation: [Blank]: Operation Peacock
  • Parody Commercial: Fake advertisements for, among other things, plastic surgery ("Breast in Show. Because, 'You're perfect, just the way you are,' is what your guidance counselor says. And she's an alcoholic), TV shows (Captains Bodacious IV: Badder and More Bodaciouser) and Maxi Pad Pets ("Brought to you by The Corporation: In your homes and in your pants.).
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The entire Corporation, especially the Big Bad.
  • Product Placement: In-universe, there's a whole TV show based on it.
  • Quicksand Sucks: It gets Nicole and Shanti. Lampshaded by Nicole: "That's just a desert island trope".
  • Real Women Don't Wear Dresses: Adina believes this, dismissing makeovers and beauty as something society constructed to keep women in line. Jennifer and Shanti don't argue otherwise, but also mention that they're having fun with it anyhow and not everything has to be empowering.
  • Rescue Romance: Jennifer rescues Sosie from a giant snake.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Just about everything is symbolic. Seriously.
  • Sassy Black Woman / Black Best Friend: Nicole doesn't want to be one.
  • Sex Is Evil, and I Am Horny: The root of Mary Lou's issues. She has a high sex drive and enjoys taking the lead, but her mother, first boyfriend, and school all slut shamed her for it until she took a purity pledge, causing her to believe that her sexual desires were dirty and monstrous. Her relationship with Tane, who not only allows but actually likes her being dominant, helps her get over it.
  • Shark Pool: Mary Lou and Tane are slowly lowered into a Piranha pit. Lampshaded: "You really have seen too many Loch Lomond movies."
  • Stab the Scorpion: Taylor levels a gun at Adina, and shoots a Mook behind her.
  • That's No Moon!: The volcano is a secret base for The Corporation.
  • This Is for Emphasis, Bitch!: Petra's help banner.
  • Transgender: Petra is transgender. She takes feminizing hormones and would have gotten the full surgery but she couldn't afford it. She entered the Miss Teen Dream Contest to raise awareness for transgender rights.
  • Token Minority: Deconstructed with Nicole and Shanti.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: The beauty queens come up with a detailed plan for the Miss Teen Dream Pageant but it fails and they have to improvise.
  • Valley Girl: Shanti's true personality.
  • What You Are in the Dark: A Central Theme as the girls learn to shed their manufactured personalities for the cameras and start being who they really are the longer they stay on the island.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The ending combines this with a Dance Party Ending.
  • Whole Plot Reference: Much like Lord of the Flies was a giant middle finger to Coral Island, this book flips off Lord of the Flies in return.


Example of: