Friday, August 3, 2012

Book Review: Ten Girls to Watch

By Gail Allison

Dawn West wants to be a writer. A successful writer. She lives in New York in a tiny apartment with a roommate whom she doesn’t really know, and writes whenever she can. Her current gig: giving online lawn care advice under the pseudonym Kelly Burns at a whopping 11 cents a word, in addition to applying for any writing job she can find. When her ex-boyfriend invites her to a party and she agrees to go along as a friend, Dawn finds herself meeting Robert’s new girlfriend (a charming, if slightly overbearing girl named Lily). At this awkward event, Lily introduces Dawn to Regina Greene, the editor-in-chief of Charm magazine. Regina mentions that she needs a temp to work on the 50-year anniversary compilation of the "Ten Girls To Watch" feature, gives Dawn her card, and asks her to call Monday.

Now, just to be clear: the author of "Ten Girls to Watch," Charity Shumway, was actually the reporter who worked on the 50th anniversary of Glamour magazine’s “Top Ten College Women” feature. The more I learn about Ms Shumway, the more parallels I see between her life and her protagonist’s life. I’d love to see what she can do with a purely fictional storyline, but she does a great job weaving the details of her real-life experience into a lovely summer novel.

Ms Shumway builds a character that grabs you by the heart, simply because I’m quite sure everyone one of us can see something of ourselves in Dawn’s situation. I’m sure we’ve all felt that deluge of bad luck and trouble that just never seems to end. And Dawn’s quiet tenacity is a fantastic trait that is never really highlighted in the novel, but is something you feel throughout the book just the same. When she shows up at Charm, ready to work her butt off, and is shown to her basement closet of an office, with nothing but dusty archives and weird Ralph to keep her company, she dives in and begins unearthing diamonds right away.

Probably my most favorite thing about this book was the mini-bios of some of the “Ten Girls” at the beginnings of some of the chapters. They were detailed, and absolutely fascinating. And the way Ms. Shumway knit their stories into the subsequent chapter was nothing short of delightful. Every time I came across one of the bios, I was so excited to read the next chapter and see how it all tied together. It was a fantastic idea to break up the novel with these little blurbs, and they really kept the reader engaged.

I also really liked the way everything came together at the end, but Dawn still had real-life struggles left to deal with. She had a life left to live. She didn’t find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, she didn’t resolve all her problems and live a life of luxury, and she didn’t get a “happily ever after”. She did, however, learn to take charge of her life and through that achieved a life closer to the one she had been dreaming of. That sort of realism really sits well with me. Happily ever after almost never happens in real life, but the lessons learned in this novel left me with a great ending and a really good feeling about where my own life was headed, even though my life in no way parallels Dawn’s.

I’d absolutely recommend “Ten Girls to Watch” as an uplifting novel about the daily struggles that we all see (in a broad sense) and some lighthearted encouragement reminding us that we’re all equipped to work through everything that comes our way.

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1 comment:

Kwana said...

Great review and it look like a fun read.