Mona Hibbard has wanted to be a beauty pageant queen since she was eight, despite not being considered traditional beauty pageant material. This goal is in large part to make up for an unhappy home life while she was growing up. Her primary support for the better part of her life has been her mousy best friend, Ruby Stillwell, with who she currently lives with Ruby's seven year old daughter Vanessa. Mona's hard work and determination as a girl led to her growing up into an adult with this singular focus to the exclusion of all else. Because of what she sees as Mona's selfish attitude, Vanessa can't understand what her mother sees in her. Mona's ultimate dream is one step from reality when she is chosen to represent Illinois in the Miss American Miss pageant. Mona will do whatever it takes to win, much like she did to be crowned Miss Illinois. But when Ruby is detained, Vanessa, who gets a better understanding of Mona after meeting Mona's mother and stepfather, becomes her surrogate family at the pageant. Mona's dream of winning the pageant not only faces the obstacles of forty-nine other contestants, but also Joyce Parkins, an ambitious reporter with a vendetta, and Mona herself, whose priorities may change because of Vanessa.