From Charity Shumway, 10 Girls to Watch is the often funny, and undeniably passion-stirring, story of Dawn West, a quirky, aspiring writer and fresh college graduate, struggling to make her way in New York City.
We are introduced to Dawn at a turning point in her life: she has just secured a temporary job- a writing job- at Charm magazine (unashamedly similar to real-life Glamour magazine), to track and interview the winners of the “10 Girls to Watch Contest” over the past decades, in honor of the contest’s anniversary. While she realizes the pay is stingy (and the work environment consists of her, one desk, and an empty basement filled with old files), Dawn is thrilled to even dip her toe into profession writing after spending her past year-plus working in low-paying “temp” jobs and blogging about lawn up-keep, whilst she was distributing obscene amounts of resumes and applications for writing positions (to no avail).
Undoubtedly, the story may appear familiar on its surface- little fish in the big city tries to pave her path as a writer. But please do not be deceived; 10 Girls to Watch adds a unique, and relatable, perspective to the literary world through the honest, often hilarious, voice of Dawn. Dawn has a number of “factors” working against her. For one, she is on the brink of “living her dreams.” She dangles over the edge a path she could follow, though never really knowing if she will fall into it. Dawn lives with the constant, though not-overpowering, knowledge that her project with Charm is temporary, and as soon as she is complete, she could be hauling herself back to “temp” agencies, resume in hand. On top of that, Dawn criticizes herself for failing to write, despite her deep-routed vision that she will, one day, be a writer. And finally, Dawn spends her days interviewing former “10 Girls to Watch” winners, which means she has the opportunity to speak with some of the most remarkable, passionate women in the country; and, meanwhile, juxtapose their stories of success against her own. Mixed with the pressure to find a man, manage her life with a difficult roommate, put food on her table at night, and stop herself from obsessing about her ex, Dawn is set up for a full-on depression, and at times, it does seem that she slips closer and closer in that direction. Yet, what is so entrancing about 10 Girls to Watch, is Dawn’s resilience despite. In fact, she (and, ideally, readers as well), chooses to find inspiration in the tales of Charm’s former greats, using their experiences to shed light on her own. It would not a reach to label 10 Girls to Watch as a “coming-of-age” novel, as it portrays a clear learning curve while Dawn becomes increasingly self-aware, and consequently, directs herself closer to the person she aspires to be. Above all, Dawn’s story celebrates female empowerment, strength, and even sisterhood, in a way that is just subtle enough to create a powerful, lasting impact.
10 Girls to Watch is highly readable, quick-moving, and realistic novel that is a perfect read for a “20-something woman,” but will be inspiring for any age or gender. Chumway creates a likeable character with an appealing voice, and I look forward to reading more from her in the future.