Inspired by a true story, a young woman is swept up in the glamour and excitement of chasing the title of Miss America 1950—only to vanish the night she wins. Betty Jane Welch reluctantly enters the Miss Delaware contest to make her mother happy, only to surprisingly find herself the judges’ choice. Just like that, she’s catapulted into the big time, the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City. Luckily, her pageant-approved escort for the week is the dashing but mercurial Griffin McAllister, and she falls for him hard. But when the spirited Betty unexpectedly wins the crown and sash, she finds she may lose what she wants most: Griff’s love. To keep him, she recklessly agrees to run away together. From the flashy carnival of the Boardwalk to the shadowy streets of Manhattan to a cliffside mansion in gilded Newport, the chase is on as the cops and a scrappy reporter secretly in love with the beauty queen threaten to unravel everything-and expose Griff’s darkest secret.
I know some of you were curious about this title when I published my weekly wrap-up. I don’t know if it was the unique title, the beautiful cover, or the fact that the novel took place in 1949 that made me want to read this one. Probably an equal combination of those three aspects. And April couldn’t come soon enough.
I honestly didn’t know what to expect from The Night She Won Miss America. It didn’t seem like a typical read, which I definitely appreciate. I only knew that it wasn’t a proper romance (although it featured a love story) and that it was loosely based on a true event that happened in the 1930s. Color me intrigued.
To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever watched an actual beauty pageant on TV -I’m a fiction girl, after all-, but I still won’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Miss Congeniality (okay, more than 5). And well, after all the crimes and creepiness, I was eager for something girly, so this novel seemed like the perfect fit. I’m glad to say I loved it!
While it wasn’t a particularly twisty book, I’d say this took me on an unexpected journey. The first part of the novel (the beauty pageant) was lovely, fun and completely captivating. I couldn’t stop picturing it all in my head: the girls, the gowns, the escorts, Atlantic City… and Michael Callahan’s writing was subtle and flawless. The second part of the book turned into something much darker but I was equally engaged. I felt so sorry for Betty and Griff because they were so sweet in the beginning, but my favorites were always Miss Rhode Island, Ciji, and reporter Eddie Tate (crush alert!).
My (tiny) issues: as amazing as the title is, it’s also a bit spoilery, given that that doesn’t happen until later in the book. And, in my opinion, the present events felt a bit irrelevant, especially when you compare it to the actual story, which was the main focus after all. However, if I’m being completely honest, none of those things bothered me at all because the book was still delightful and unforgettable.
I can’t wait to read another novel by Callahan!
ARC, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017