A Word From Your SponSor
This book begins with a plane crash. We do not want you to worry
about this. According to the U.S. Department of Unnecessary
Statistics, your chances of dying in a plane crash are one in half a
million. Whereas your chances of losing your bathing suit bottoms
to a strong tide are two to one. So, all in all, it's safer to fly than to
go to the beach. As we said, this book begins with a plane crash. But
there are survivors. You see? Already it's a happy tale. They are all
beauty queen contestants. You do not need to know their names
here. But you will get to know them. They are all such nice girls.
Yes, they are nice, happy, shining, patriotic girls who happen to have
interests in baton twirling, sign language, AIDS prevention in the
animal population, the ancient preparation of popadam, feminine
firearms, interpretive dance, and sequins. Such a happy story. And
This story is brought to you by The Corporation: Because Your
Life Can Always Be Better™. We at The Corporation would like
you to enjoy this story, but please be vigilant while reading. If you
should happen to notice anything suspicious in the coming pages,
do alert the proper authorities. Remember, it could be anything at
all — a subversive phrase, an improper thought or feeling let out of
its genie bottle of repression, an idea that challenges the status quo,
the suggestion that life may not be what it appears to be and that
all you've taken for granted (malls, shopping, the relentless pursuit
of an elusive happiness, prescription drug ads, those annoying
perfume samples in magazines that make your eyes water, the way
anchormen and women shift easily from the jovial laughter of a story
about a dog that hula-hoops to a grave report on a bus crash that
has left five teenagers dead) may be no more consequential than the
tattered hem of a dream, leaving you with a bottomless, free-fall
This is the sort of thing we are warning you about.
But let's not worry, shall we? There's nothing to worry about.
Though there is the threat of a war, it happens in the background,
in snippets on the nightly news between ads for sinus medicines. It's
none of our concern. This is a happy story.
Now, our story begins, as so many happy stories do, with a blue,
blue sky. A blue, blue sky punctuated by thick white clouds; they
drift across the expanse like semicolons, reminding us that there is
more to come. The pilot, a man in his forties who once stayed on a
mechanical bull for a full eight seconds, has just turned off the fasten
seat belts sign. The flight is on its way to a remote tropical
paradise where the girls will compete against one another for the
title of Miss Teen Dream.
Oh, dear. Compete is a rather ugly word, isn't it? After all, these
are such lovely girls, pure of heart and high of spirits. Let's say that
they will be "drawing on their personal best," and some girls will
"proceed on a path of Miss Teen Dreamdom" while others will "have
the option to explore other pageant opportunities elsewhere at an
unspecified future time." Ah. There. That's much better, isn't it?
The pilot and copilot, whose names are not important to our
tale, are trading stories with each other, as they may be wont to do
in those mysterious quarters beyond the galley. We cannot truly
know. We do know that in just a few moments, they will struggle
valiantly to land the plane on a small scrub of island in the middle
of the ocean. They will be partly successful.
On the other side of the cockpit door, fifty girls smile and preen
and pose for the cameras. One girl confesses this is her first plane
ride as she stares out the window, her mouth open in awe, her mind
completely unbothered by thoughts of who will live and who will
"have her living options curtailed."1
In the cabin, the pilot notes the red light and abandons his story.
Flames erupt from the right engine. The turbine breaks into useless
slivers. Vibrations shake the plane, causing it to pitch and wobble.
The view from the right is now marred by a billowing plume of
And so our tale begins with a sudden fall from blue skies, with
screams and prayers and a camera crew bravely recording every bit
of the turbulence and drama: What a lucky break for their show!
How the producers will crow! Ratings will skyrocket! Suddenly terse
flight attendants rush through the aisles barking orders, securing
latches on the agitating overhead bins. One girl leads the others in a
song about Jesus being her copilot, which makes them feel better, as
if, even as they assume crash-landing positions with their arms over
their heads, a bearded man in white robes and sandals is strapping
on a headset and grabbing the controls.
The right engine quits entirely, and there is a brief period of absolute
silence. In the pressurized air of the cabin, a hopeful, euphoric
feeling swells behind the lacy underwires guarding the chests of
these girls — the thought that perhaps there was nothing to be
frightened about after all, that they've escaped a grisly fate and are
now being given a second chance. Through the left-side windows,
they can see the strange, verdant land taking shape, growing bigger
as they descend. It's beautiful. They will land safely, no matter the
sudden near-vertical descent. They're sure of it. After all, these are
can-do girls from a nation built upon dreams. And what is the earsplitting
scream of metal against metal, the choking smoke, the
sensation of falling through a surprisingly uncaring sky, against such
1 You look worried. Really, you should relax. Reading is a pleasurable activity
and worrying is bad for your heart.
"Are you all right?"
The voice was tinny in Adina's ears. Her head ached, and she was
wet. She remembered the plane pitching and falling, the smoke and
screams, the panic, and then nothing.
"Am I dead?" she asked the face looming over hers. The face had
apple cheeks and was framed by a halo of glossy black curls.
"Are you dead?" Adina asked warily.
The face above her shook from side to side, and then burst into
tears. Adina relaxed, reasoning that she had to be alive, unless the
afterlife was a lot more bipolar than she'd been led to believe. She
pulled herself to a sitting position and waited for the wooziness to
subside. A gash on her knee was caked in dried blood. Another on
her arm still seeped. Her dress was ripped and slightly scorched and
she wore only one shoe. It was one half of her best pair, and in her
state of shock, finding the other became important. "Can you help
me find my shoe?"
"Sure. I saw some in the water. I hope they're not leather,"
the other girl said in an accent flat as a just-plowed field. She had
huge, blue, anime-worthy eyes. "I'm Miss Nebraska, Mary Lou
"Adina Greenberg. Miss New Hampshire." Adina cupped her
hands over her eyes, looking out toward the sea. "I don't see it."
"That's a shame. It's a real nice shoe."
"Roland Me'sognie2," Adina said, and she honestly couldn't figure
out why. She didn't care about the stupid brand. That was her
mother's influence. Shock. It had to be the shock.
"If I can find my suitcase, I've got an extra pair of sneakers in
there. I'm a size eight."
"You're welcome. I like to be helpful. It's sort of a Nebraska thing.
My pageant sponsor says I've got a real good chance at Miss
Congeniality this year."
"Miss Congeniality represents the true heart of the pageant,"
Adina found herself repeating from the Miss Teen Dream manual.
She vaguely remembered that she used to make a gagging motion at
that, but she was too dazed for snarkiness just now. Dazed because,
yes, when she'd been looking for her shoe, she'd seen bodies in the
water. Lifeless bodies.
"Miss Congeniality is an ambassador of smiles," Mary Lou said
in a choked voice.
"It'll be okay," Adina said, even though she was pretty sure that
this was the textbook definition of so not okay. "I think we should
find everybody else."
Mary Lou wiped her nose on the torn chiffon of her sleeve and
followed Adina along the crescent of beach. The air smelled of
smoke. A blackened metal wing lay on the sand. Sparkly evening
gowns floated on the tide like jellyfish skin, the shininess attracting
2 Roland Me'sognie, the notoriously fat-phobic French designer whose
tourniquet-tight fashions adorn the paper cut–thin bodies of models, starlets,
socialites, and reality TV stars. In fact, when the svelte pinup Bananas Foster,
famous for starring in a series of medical side-effect commercials, was arrested
in a Vegas club for snorting cholesterol-lowering drugs while wearing a Roland
jumpsuit, he pronounced her "too fat to steal my oxygen. I die to see her misuse
my genius. The earth weeps with me." Sales rose 88% that week. The
House of Roland was the first to introduce sizing lower than 0 — the -1. "We
make the woman disappear and the fashion appear!"
the curiosity of the seagulls who swooped over them in a repeated
figure eight. Girls in various states of bedraggled dotted the sand
like exotic, off-course birds. The contents of opened suitcases and
flung purses were strewn across the beach. A red-white-and-blue,
fringed baton-twirler's dress hung from a tree. A soggy beauty whose
sash identified her as Miss Ohio stumbled out of the surf and sank
to her knees, coughing up water and bile.
"Oh my God," Adina muttered. She knew she should do something
here; she just couldn't remember what. The Corporation's Miss Teen
Dream plane had been flying them to Paradise Cove for the Forty-
first Annual Miss Teen Dream Pageant. They were to film some
fun-in-the-sun promotional pieces, ride the waterslides, and practice
their performance numbers. They had all just arrived in Florida the
night before, and that morning, at ten a.m., fifty beaming girls in
outfits adorned with something emblematic of their states had boarded
the plane. Adina had wanted to put New Hampshire's famous poet
Robert Frost on her outfit, but her mother and Alan had said there
were no poets among the judges, and now her dress had an image of
the White Mountains that ranged disastrously across her 36DDs.
She'd sat on the plane, her arms folded over her chest, hating that
she'd been talked into wearing it. Then came the bang and the smoke,
the screams, the falling, the exit doors opening, the sensation of tumbling
through the air and landing in a mound of warm sand. How
many had made it out? What had happened to the pilots, the chaperones,
the Corporation film crew? Where were they now?
A voice with a strong twang rang out. "All right, Miss Teen
Dreamers! Yoo-hoo! Over here! I'm wigglin' my fingers for y'all's
attention! Could y'all come on over here, please?"
The waving goddess stood outlined by the smoking metal wing
as if she were a model in a showroom of plane wreckage. She was tall
and tanned, her long blond hair framing her gorgeous face in messy
waves. Her teeth were dazzlingly white. Across the midriff of her
dress was a sheer mesh inset of a Lone Star Flag. The girls wandered
over, drawn to the command her beauty bestowed.
"Y'all come on down and gather round, horseshoe formation —
thank you. Some of y'all can fill in here in front where there are gaps."
The girls did as they were told, happy that someone had taken
"Hi. I'm Taylor Rene Krystal Hawkins, and I'm Miss Teen Dream
Texas, the state where dreams are bigger and better — nothing
against y'all's states. I'm a senior at George Walker Bush High School
and I hope to pursue a career as a motivational speaker."
There was polite, automatic applause. A dazed girl beside Adina said,
"I want to pursue a career in the exciting world of weight-management
broadcast journalism. And help kids not have cancer and stuff."
Miss Texas spoke again: "Okay, Miss Teen Dreamers, I know
we're all real flustered and everything. But we're alive. And I think
before anything else we need to pray to the one we love."
A girl raised her hand. "J. T. Woodland3?"
"I'm talkin' about my personal copilot, Jesus Christ."
"Someone should tell her personal copilot that His landings suck,"
Miss Michigan muttered. She was a lithe redhead with the panther-
like carriage of a professional athlete.
"Dear Jesus," Taylor started. The girls bowed their heads, except
"Don't you want to pray?" Mary Lou whispered.
"I'm Jewish. Not big on the Jesus."
"Oh. I didn't know they had any Jewish people in New Hampshire.
You should make that one of your Fun Facts About Me!"
Adina opened her mouth but couldn't think of anything to say.
"Ahem. Dear Jesus," Taylor intoned more fervently. "We just want
to thank you for gettin' us here safe —"
3J. T. Woodland, known as "the cute one" in The Corporation's seventh-grade
boy band, Boyz Will B Boyz. Due to the success of their triple-platinum hit, "Let
Me Shave Your Legs Tonight, Girl," Boyz Will B Boyz ruled the charts for a solid
eleven months before hitting puberty and losing ground to Hot Vampire Boyz.
Five years later, Boyz Will B Boyz is nothing more than a trivia question.
There was a loud, gurgling groan. Somebody shouted, "Oh my
gosh! Miss Delaware just died!"
"— for gettin' some of us here safe," Taylor continued. "And we
pray that, as we are fine, upstandin', law-abidin' girls who represent
the best of the best, you will protect us from harm and keep us safe
until we are rescued and can tell our story to People magazine.
"Amen," the girls echoed, then fell into noisy chatter. Where were
they? What would happen to them? Would they be rescued? Where
were the adults? Was this something to do with the war?
"Teen Dream Misses!" Taylor singsonged above the din, smiling.
"My stars. It's gettin' kinda noisy. Now. My daddy is a general, and
I know what he'd say if he were here: We need to do a recon mission,
see if there are any more survivors, and tend to the wounded."
"My head kinda hurts," Miss New Mexico said. Several of the
girls gasped. Half of an airline serving tray was lodged in her forehead,
forming a small blue canopy over her eyes.
"What is it?" Miss New Mexico checked to make sure her bra
straps weren't showing.
"N-nothing." Miss Ohio managed an awkward smile.
"First things first," Taylor said. "Any of y'all have first-aid
Miss Alabama's hand shot up at the same time as Miss Mississippi's.
They were both artificially tanned and bleach-blond, with the same
expertly layered long hair. If not for the ragged state sashes they still
wore, it would be hard to tell them apart.
"Names?" Taylor prompted.
"I'm Tiara with an A," said Miss Mississippi.
"I'm Brittani with an I," said Miss Alabama. "I got my Scouting
Badge in First Aid."
"Ohmigosh, me, too!" Tiara threw her arms around Brittani.
"You're so nice. If it's not me, I hope you win."
"No, I hope YOU win!"
"Ladies, this part is not a competition," Taylor said. "Okay. Miss
Alabama and Miss Mississippi are on first-aid duty. Anybody have a
phone that survived?"
Two of the girls brought forward phones. One was water damaged.
The other could not get a signal.
Adina spoke up. "Maybe we should have a roll call, see who's here
and who's missing."
Missing settled over the girls like a sudden coat of snow shaken
loose from an awning, and they moved forward on autopilot, dazed
smiles in place, and stated their names and representative states.
Occasionally, one would divulge that she was an honors student or a
cheerleader or a volunteer at a soup kitchen, as if, in this moment of
collective horror, they could not divorce themselves from who they
had been before, when such information was required, when it got
them from one pageant to the next, all the way to the big one. Of
the fifty states, only twelve girl representatives were accounted for,
including Miss California, Shanti Singh; Miss Michigan, Jennifer
Huberman; and Miss Rhode Island, Petra West, who, ironically, was
the biggest girl in the pageant at nearly six feet. Some girls argued
over whether the death of Miss Massachusetts — favored by bookies
to win the whole thing — meant that the competition would never
feel entirely fair.
"Thank you, ladies. I'm guessing that's where the rest of the
plane is." Taylor pointed to the thick black smoke spiraling up from
the jungle. "There might be more of us in there. We need to organize
a search party. A Miss Teen Dream Recon Machine. Any
As a unit, the girls turned to gaze at the forbidding expanse of jungle.
No one raised her hand. Taylor clicked her tongue. "Well, I guess
there aren't any Ladybird Hopes4 in this crowd. My stars, I'm glad she's
4 Ladybird Hope, the most famous Miss Teen Dream who ever lived, making
her name as a bikini-clad meteorologist, small-town talk show host, lobbyist,
mayor, and Corporation businesswoman with her own clothing line. Rumored
to be running for president.
not here to see this. I bet she'd vomit in her mouth with disappointment.
And then, like a pro, she'd swallow it down and keep smiling."
Taylor took a pink gloss from a hidden pocket and slicked the
glittery wand over her lips. "You remember that The Corporation
almost canceled the Miss Teen Dream Pageant last year due to low
ratings, and they were gonna replace it with that show about Amish
girls who share a house with strippers, Girls Gone Rumspringa? And
then, just like a shining angel, Ladybird Hope stepped in and said
she would personally secure the advertisers for the pageant. I have
lived my whole life according to Ladybird and her platform — Being
Perfect in Every Way — and I'm not about to let her down now. If I
have to, I will go into that jungle by myself. I'll bet those Corporation
camera crews will be real happy to see me."
"I'll go!" Shanti's hand shot up.
"Me, too!" Petra yelled.
Mary Lou nudged Adina. "I guess it wouldn't be very congenial
of me not to go. Will you come, too? I want to have one friend."
Adina didn't know what they'd find in the jungle, but journalists
always went where the story was, and Adina was the best journalist
at New Castle High School. It was what had gotten her into this
mess. She raised her hand to volunteer.
Two teams were organized and, after much debate, names were chosen:
The Sparkle Ponies would stay on the beach, tend to the wounded,
and try to salvage whatever they could from the wreckage. The Lost
Girls would soldier into the jungle in the hopes of finding survivors.
Shanti gave instructions to the girls heading into the surf toward
the mangled half plane, which was taking on water quickly. "We need
to remember to bring out anything we can — first-aid kits, blankets,
pillows, seat cushions, clothes, and especially food and water."
"But why?" Tiara asked. "They'll be coming to rescue us
"We don't know how long that will be. We've got to survive
"Ohmigosh. No food at all." Tiara sank down on the sand as if
the full weight of their predicament had finally hit her. She blinked
back tears. And then that megawatt smile that belonged on cereal
boxes across the nation reappeared. "I am going to be so superskinny
by pageant time!"