One of the strange things about writing a book is that while you’re writing it, at least if you’re me, you spend a great deal of time fantasizing about the rave reviews that will someday come your way. (I guess some people have fantasies centered on chains and leather. Mine all center on applause). But then as the publication date nears, your feelings begin to morph, because, it turns out, reviews aren’t imaginary anymore, they’re inevitable. And in the real world, reviews aren’t always rave.
Ten Girls to Watch has been out for a couple of months now, which means the reviews have mostly come and gone. And I’m happy to report that I made it through alive and well and in fine enough spirits to give you a review summary. Without further ado, here are the highlights and the lowlights.
Let’s get the bad news out of the way. Some people really hated my book. Yep! The word “meh” made a tiny appearance on Goodreads. I read the word “meh” and gave it a “meh” and a shrug back, and we’re all okay.
The good news is that a lot of people really liked my book. But they didn’t just like it, they were super surprised that they liked it. This makes me laugh.
Let’s start with my grandpa. He’s 94. He emailed me (I didn’t even know he had email) to tell me what he thought of the book.
“I think the story would be more for women than an old tradition-entrenched guy like me, but I did like it. Along in the middle I began to wonder how you would end it, and I was quite pleased how you handled it.”
See, he’s a man, but surprise! He liked it anyway!
Then there was my Aunt Margaret’s email:
“I loved that the book is actually much more complicated than it seems.”
That word ‘actually’ seems to come up a lot. “I actually really liked it.” “It’s actually really good.” I have come to the conclusion that everyone just assumes that a book about a 23-year-old woman will center on shopping, and it’s a real shock to the system when it turns out there’s more to it than that. In fact, Kirkus Reviews just came out and said it.
“Though countless novels have offered the same conceit—lives in New York, works in media, searches for Mr. Right—Shumway’s Dawn is a young woman of substance, and her trials are of more consequence than the search for the perfect Little Black Dress.”
(That same review called Dawn a “modern-day Mary Tyler Moore” which means I’ll love Kirkus forever).
A blog called Comp Lit and Mediphilia had even more to say about this surprise:
“Ten Girls to Watch is actually a really good read [note the word ‘actually’]….The premise of this book, that Dawn keeps calling all of these women who from 1957 on have been achievers and trailblazers and gets to interview them, is so insufferably obvious and yet somehow it’s not cliche or obnoxious but really interesting! ….Basically, this book baffles me, because it should be awful but instead it’s really great.”
Bafflement, my friends! Bafflement!
In my mind, the ultimate review is of David Mitchell’s book Cloud Atlas, from the New York Times Book Review a few years back: “Mitchell is, clearly, a genius,” the review begins. Not just Mitchell is a genius. No, he’s clearly! a genius. I’ve been waiting for someone to say that about me! Alas. I think genius is a ways off, and if I’m getting an adverb it’s going to be “surprisingly.” Shumway is, surprisingly, competent. Ha.
I’ve never been good with surprises. The first thing I do is go directly to the person and say “Hey, I have a secret plan.” And then they try to guess for about four minutes until I just break down and tell them everything.
Maybe that’s why I’m so pleased by these responses. Finally, I’ve done it. Surprise!