THE NIGHT SHE WON MISS AMERICA

Michael Callahan

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,

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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.

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  • Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Hardcover
  • April 2018
  • 336 Pages
  • 9780544809970

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About Michael Callahan

Michael Callahan is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and was formerly a deputy editor at Town & Country and Marie Claire. He is the author of Searching for Grace Kelly (2015) and The Night She Won Miss America (2017). His work has also been published in Elle, the New York Times, the Hollywood Reporter, and many other national publications.

Praise

“Inspired by a true story, this delightful novel is like an old black-and-white movie translated to the page, perfectly capturing the era as it serves up breathless romance and a heart-pounding plot.”People Magazine 

“The latest from Searching for Grace Kelly author (and former T&C editor) Michael Callahan, The Night She Won Miss America, follows a reluctant beauty queen as she falls in love with her pageant escort and finds herself on the run from ho-hum Delaware to Manhattan, Newport, and beyond. Expect glamour, grit, and some truly unpredictable twists and turns.”Town & Country

“A cinematic tale in the tradition of a Douglas Sirk movie, and the perfect book to pack away in your beach bag.”Adweek

Discussion Questions

1. What does it usually mean when Betty’s mother makes her favorite lemon cake? Why has her mother made it this time? Why does Betty agree to join the Miss Delaware pageant even though she claims to have no personal interest in pageantry? Do you think that her choice is a good one? Why or why not?

2. According to the novel, what is the Miss America pageant supposed to represent? Does the pageant and its participants truly live up to this? Explain. Why do you think that the pageant was so well-beloved at that time?

3. What are some of the rules that pageant contestants must follow? Would you say that these rules seem reasonable? What purpose might they serve? Do Betty and the other contestants follow these rules? If not, which rules do they break and what are the consequences?

4. What are Betty’s first impressions of Griff? Would you say that she is able to accurately assess who he is within their first few meetings? Are her first impressions of him correct? What does the book suggest about identity and first impressions?

5. Why do you think that the judges seem interested in Betty even though she expresses minimal interest in the pageant? What makes her stand out from the other young women in the pageant?

6. How does Betty respond to winning the Miss America pageant? What is her time like after being crowned as Miss America? Were you surprised by her reaction? Why does she ultimately decide to take action that she knows will mean giving up her position and the crown?

7. What is the secret that Griff keeps from Betty? Why do you think that Betty stays with Griff even after she learns of his condition? How does knowing about Griff’s condition makes Griff “seem” to her?

8. Who is Eddie Tate and why is he so interested in Betty and her story? Why doesn’t Tate report what he finds in Reeve’s apartment?

9. Although Ciji ultimately helps Betty, she first denies to others that she and Betty were ever close friends. Why does she do this? Why is Ciji afraid of honoring her promise to come to Betty’s aid if Betty needs a “Joan of Arc”?

10. Consider the motif of denial. Which characters in the novel are in denial of something? What do they deny, and what causes them to do this? Do they ever reconcile with what they try to deny? Explain.

11. The book captures the story of an ordinary person changed in an extraordinary moment. What does the book suggest about the impact and legacy of fame? Is fame something that should be sought after? Why or why not?

12. Why does Bron think that Betty should tell her story, even after so many years have passed? How does he try to convince her to do this? Is he successful? Why or why not? What does he tell Betty that he believes about history? Do you agree with him?

13. Through The Night She Won Miss America the author creates a portrait of a bygone era. What does the novel reveal about this time period and its culture? Consider language, setting, imagery, and thematic material such as the treatment of social class, race, and gender roles, for example.

14. Reviewers have referred to Callahan’s novel as “cinematic.” What do you think they mean by this? What cinematic qualities does the book have, and how does the author give the book this quality? What kinds of films would you compare the novel to and why?

15. What were your thoughts and feelings about pageants before reading Callahan’s novel? Did the novel change your view of pageantry or the Miss America pageant in any way? If so, what caused you to change your point of view? Discuss.