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About The Book

A radiant debut novel about stumbling through the early years of adulthoodand a love letter to the role models who light the way.

Like so many other recent graduates, Dawn West is trying to make her way in New York City. She’s got an ex-boyfriend she can’t quite stop seeing, a roommate who views rent checks and basic hygiene as optional, and a writing career that’s gotten as far as penning an online lawn care advice column.

So when Dawn lands a job tracking down the past winners of Charm magazine’s “Ten Girls to Watch” contest, she’s thrilled. After all, she’s being paid to interview hundreds of fascinating women: once outstanding college students, they have gone on to become mayors, opera singers, and air force pilots. As Dawn gets to know their life stories, she’ll discover that success, love, and friendship can be found in the most unexpected of places. Most importantly, she’ll learn that while those who came before us can be role models, ultimately, we each have to create our own happy ending.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Ten Girls to Watch includes 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 ( 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

About The Author

Photograph by Stacy Young

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. 

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria Books (July 31, 2012)
  • Length: 368 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781451673425

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Raves and Reviews

"A winning debut featuring the kind of witty, appealing good girl that captures readers' hearts....a sort of modern-day Mary Tyler Moore, Dawn a young woman of substance and her trials are of more consequence than the search for the perfect Little Black Dress." —Kirkus

"A smoothly paced plot, peppered with robust vignettes from Charm’s success stories and quirky details from Dawn’s life, ensures a fast, funny, and moving read.” —Publishers Weekly

"Debut author Shumway offers a fresh and modern take on chick lit. Instead of showcasing the melodramatic and helpless, she highlights the power and will of women. There is an inspirational undercurrent without being sappy. Dawn makes a great everywoman, and her story will appeal to girls of all ages." —Library Journal

“Upbeat and engrossing, this chick-lit novel gratifyingly focuses more on Dawn’s burgeoning career than on which man she’ll end up with.” —Booklist

"Loved The Baby-Sitter's Club? Read Ten Girls To Watch...You won't see any baby-sitters here. But what you will recognize is the determination, spunk, entrepreneurial attitude and girl power ferocity you identified with and loved about your favorite group of friends” Bustle

“Delightful…a debut that proves to be nothing short of charming. An intriguing plot, brilliant characters, and beautiful prose combine to create a novel that readers will adore.” —Deseret News

"Charming in its honesty and humor, this novel captures that time right after college, when we all feel overwhelmed and adrift. Shumway expertly guides us through a young woman's love life, her family, friends, and career as she proves that perfect endings aren't the only happy ones."
—Lauren Weisberger, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Devil Wears Prada

Ten Girls to Watch is an insightful, funny take on post grad tribulations that thoughtfully mines the wisdom of women.”
Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, #1 New York Times bestselling authors of The Nanny Diaries

"The heroine of Charity Shumway's lively, smart and funny debut is as inspiring as the female luminaries it is her job to interview. What I loved about this coming-of-age story was its realistic and confirming celebration of feminine resilience, brilliance and generosity. Not your stereotypical single gal novel, Shumway's book is a passion-stirring breath of fresh air."
—Helen Schulman, New York Times bestselling author of This Beautiful Life

"Once you turn the first page, you won't be able to tear yourself away from Ten Girls to Watch. This is a thoroughly charming, sassy, highly satisfying debut from a writer with a rare gift: She sounds like your best friend, telling a story you don't ever want to end. I adored this book."
Sarah Pekkanen, author of These Girls

"A sparkling novel about how we find our friends, our mentors, and our way in the world."
—Jean Hanff Korelitz, author of Admission and a 1983 Glamour Top Ten College Women

"Ten Girls to Watch will inspire you to follow your heart and believe in your own dreams, no matter how many challenges or obstacles the universe throws your way. It's a heartwarming story about a gathering of extraordinary women who offer wisdom, warmth and humanity, as well as shoulders broad enough for all of us to stand upon. I can't wait to give this book to my sisters and best girlfriends."
—Nicolle Wallace, New York Times bestselling author of Eighteen Acres

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