three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
54-Sept-Oct-2011
user_rating: 
0

The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West

A-NothingDauntedDorothy Wickenden is the executive editor of the New Yorker. She wrote Nothing Daunted after discovering a cache of letters written by her grandmother, Dorothy Woodruff, who spent a year teaching in a far flung corner of Colorado.

The Story: In the summer of 1916, Dorothy Woodruff and Rosamund Underwood leave their staid, privileged lives in New York for adventure in the West. The two young women, friends since childhood, had answered an advertisement to teach in Colorado, but they soon discover Elkhead is more of a rough outpost than a proper town. Undaunted, Dotty and Ross set about teaching the area's 20 homesteading children. As the inexperienced teachers face extreme conditions and insufficient supplies, they inspire the community with their pragmatism, ingenuity, and unfailing good cheer.
Scribner. 304 pages. $26. ISBN: 9781439176580

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"[A] rich narrative. ... [A]n extraordinary book." Sandra Dallas

Entertainment Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"Wickenden's talents for research, observation, description, and narrative flow turn this unfaded snapshot of these early-20th-century women in the West into something even more resonant--a brightly painted mural of America under construction a century ago." Lisa Schwarzbaum

Houston Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Wickenden is a lucky and talented writer. ... Both women spring to life in this wonderful book." Elizabeth Bennett

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Individual scenes emerge with a lovely, almost pointillist clarity. ... Although Wickenden's gaze remains steadily on her well-to-do subjects, she makes us aware of the human and environmental toll of the homesteader's life." Maria Russo

Cleveland Plain Dealer 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Developed out of a 2009 article in The New Yorker, this book feels padded, especially early on when the author dithers over the women's hometown of Auburn, N.Y., and their trip to Europe." William Kist

Critical Summary

In addition to poring over family letters, Wickenden relied on town histories and interviews with descendants. The result is a well-researched, evocative look at early 20th-century life in Colorado. Wickenden skillfully balances her portrayal of the harsh conditions faced by homesteaders with the amusing anecdotes of two city women roughing it in the sticks. It's common to criticize books that are expanded from a magazine article, and Nothing Daunted took a deserved hit or two. One critic felt the book sags in parts and thought the depiction of Native American relocation superficial. But most readers will find Nothing Daunted a satisfying tale filled with pep, gumption, and a true, adventurous spirit.