A young woman feels the heavy burden of a coveted crown.
Betty Jane Welch had no desire to compete in the Miss America pageant. But after accepting her mother’s bribe of her absolute favorite lemon cake, she felt she was at least obligated to participate in 1949’s Miss Delaware scholarship pageant. Though everyone around Betty sees her potential, she is unable to even fathom the possibility of making it past the first round of the competition. As her beauty, talent at the harp, and sharp wit move her swiftly up the ranks, it's what happens behind the scenes at the pageant that offers the most surprises. Upon meeting her escort, John Griffin “Griff” McAllister, Betty is equally charmed and confounded by the strikingly handsome young man. His temperament flip-flops throughout their first encounter, with him appearing bored and then thoroughly smitten often in the same breath. Griff whisks her away from the strict rules of the pageant system, and while Betty does notice some quirks in his character—those rapid mood swings, his incessant mumbling—she brushes them aside as nothing. When Betty wins the title, Griff pulls away from her, citing the stress of being known as Miss America’s boyfriend. Overcome by the pressure of the tiara, Betty turns to Griff and is willing to give it all up to be with him. What results is the wild tale of a disgraced pageant winner and a story that reporter Bronwyn McCall is anxious to uncover more than 60 years later. Early in her pageant experience, Betty muses that “Miss America does odd things to people.” Clearly, she had no idea. Callahan (Searching for Grace Kelly, 2015) creates a story that is brisk-paced and fluid. Characters like Betty’s roommate Ciji and reporter Eddie Tate add depth and emotion to the story.
Though Callahan's heroine achieved what many could only dream of, she lacked the capacity to define her own life as a 19-year-old. Luckily, the novel offers her time.