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This reading group guide forTen Girls to Watchincludes an introduction, and discussion questions. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Dawn West knew life would be hard when she moved to New York. She just didn’t know it’d be this hard. On top of being broke, jobless, and living in a shabby Brooklyn apartment—complete with a slob of a roommate who won’t pay rent—Dawn is struggling to get over her ex-boyfriend Robert, who is blissfully dating a girl Dawn wants to hate. Making a pittance from her gig writing for a lawn care website under a pseudonym, Dawn is thrilled when a chance to freelance for Charm magazine comes her way. Her assignment? To track down the past winners of Charm’s annual Ten Girls to Watch contest and plan an event to honor their achievements.
As Dawn tracks down each of these extraordinary women, while experiencing the highs and lows of being twenty-something in the big city, she begins to question much of what she thought she knew about success, friendship, love—and ultimately—about herself.
Questions & Topics for Discussion
1. Read each of the Ten Girls to Watch profiles interspersed throughout the novel. What do you think Dawn learns from each of these women when she speaks to them, years after those profiles were printed? In your opinion, does she successfully take their advice to heart? What story or piece of advice stayed with you?
2. Of all the prior Ten Girls to Watch winners that Dawn interviews, who was your favorite? Why?
3. Rebecca, one of the contest winners, tells Dawn: “ ‘I had a revelation after I became a professor here, and it’s basically this: sometimes there are excuses, and sometimes there are reasons. . . . I don’t know why most women blame themselves first, but we do, and it was a total revelation for me to look outside myself and see some other folks who deserved some blame.’ ” (p. 265) Do you agree with Rebecca’s conclusion? Why or why not? Do you think Dawn is too quick to blame herself ?
4. Reflecting on her sister, Dawn says, “Sometimes I felt I was living in New York for both of us. And sometimes I thought I was in New York out of some sort of perverse sibling rivalry.” (p. 33) What do you think of Dawn’s view of Sarah, their relationship, and her own reasons for being in New York? Does their relationship remind you of any in your own life?
5. How do the themes of sisterhood, friendship, and female empowerment that emerge through the stories of the Ten Girls to Watch winners relate to the relationships in Dawn’s life? Consider Abigail, Lily, XADI, Sarah, Helen, and Dawn’s mother.
6. At the Ten Girls to Watch gala, Regina says: “ ‘Turns out there’s just something about women who enter a contest. Once they enter one, they’re going to be entering them again and again, formal and informal, for the rest of their lives. Women who are willing to compete are the women you want on your side!’ ” (p. 314) Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Do you consider yourself to be a competitive individual?
7. How did you react to the way Dawn handled her relationship with Sylvia? How did their interactions speak to Dawn’s character? What would you have done if you were Dawn? Were you reminded of any similar roommate horror stories?
8. At one point in the book, Dawn reflects: “Robert had solved all his problems by finding the right person. And I, the wrong person, was left with all of mine.” (p. 105) How does Dawn amend this statement by the end of the novel?
9. Dawn has two romantic relationships through the course of the novel—Robert and Elliot. Compare and contrast the two men. How does Dawn change as a person when she is with Robert? With Elliot? What do you think Dawn learns from the two relationships? What does she learn about being single? Do you think she should do as Lily advised and fire back at Elliot for the awful way he ended their relationship? Would you?
10. The philosophy behind Rachel’s dating site is to assign people to different parties based on the data and personal information they provide. Do you think this is an effective way to match people? Why or why not? Would you ever go to a party hosted by The One?
11. What potential do Lily, Regina, and Helen see in Dawn that she has a hard time seeing in herself ? How does Dawn’s own perception of herself change as the novel progresses?
12. Pages 158 and 159 of Ten Girls to Watch offer snippets of advice that the contest winners wish someone would’ve given them when they were twenty-one. What advice would you give to someone ten years younger than yourself ?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Write your own winning Ten Girls to Watch profile, as it would’ve read back when you were eighteen. Then, create your profile as it would read today. Compare the two. Are you surprised by how similar or different they are?
2. If Ten Girls to Watch was being made into a movie, whom would you cast for each role?
3. Dawn’s grandmother was inspired by The Sound of Music, which in turn inspired Dawn’s writing. Get together for a Sound of Music movie night, complete with some of Dawn’s snack foods like popcorn and Cap’n Crunch. End it by listening to the “Flower Duet” from Lakmé, the song performed by Danni and Jessie at the gala.
4. Author Charity Shumway writes a blog about “growing and cooking in the city” called Spade & Spatula (www.SpadeSpatula.com). Browse through the posts and choose either a planting project to do with your book club members or a recipe to cook for your next meeting
Charity Shumway received an MFA in Creative Writing from Oregon State University and a BA in English from Harvard University. After graduate school, she spent nine months reporting on the 50th anniversary of Glamour’s "Top Ten College Women" contest. Her writing has appeared in Glamour, Ladies Home Journal, Fitness, and Garden Design, and her short fiction has been honored by Glimmer Train and Slice magazine, among others. She lives with her husband in Brooklyn, New York.