Sunday, February 19, 2012

Review: Juliette Gordon Low by Stacy Cordery

Juliette Gordon Low
The Remarkable Founder of the Girl Scouts
Author: Stacy Cordery
Publisher-Format: New York : Penguin Press, Viking, c2012.
Subject: Juliette Gordon Low
Setting: Savannah, Georgia and various locations in UK
Genre: Biography
Source: originally from NetGalley, then hard copy from Viking
Recommended - yes, definitely for Girl Scouts, and anyone ever associated with Scouting

As I mentioned last month, I was quite frustrated and disappointed when I got this book as an electronic ARC through NetGalley.  For some reason, the file was corrupted, and just would not open consistently enough to make reading this a worthwhile experience.  The publisher and NetGalley were fabulous to work with trying to correct the problem, so I put it aside hoping to get back to it when I had more patience.  To my amazement, last week I received the finished hardback copy.  Thank you Penguin/Viking. It was definitely worth the wait.  I was a Girl Scout for years--going all the way from Brownie through Senior Girl Scouts--and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  I had visited the Juliette Low Birthplace in Savannah when I was about 12-13, and had actually planned a return visit this month (the trip got cancelled!). I was a Girl Scout leader for a year when my younger sister's troop lost their leader. And my daughter was a scout, even getting to experience scouting in Japan when we lived there.  So I was really primed to read this one. I can say the read was well worth the wait for the finished copy. 

Stacy Cordery has given us an incredibly in-depth biography, and I'm not going to do a point by point re-cap of Daisy Low's life here in this review.  What I want to focus on is the detail, the insight, and the obvious research that went into this project.  Cordery admits to a life-long fascination with her subject, and tells us of its inception many years ago.  She has followed Juliette Gordon's early life, her married years, and her widowhood, giving us almost an overload of facts, feelings, and a sense of the difficulties her deafness caused her throughout her life, but without becoming maudlin or hero worshiping.  While it could have done with some editing to cull out unnecessary details about secondary characters (particularly their family trees), it was organized, well-documented, and should serve as the definitive biography of a very special lady for years to come.

The book of Gordon Low's life can almost be divided into two stories : her early life as a Southern socialite and marriage to a member of the Bristish aristocracy, followed by her years as a widow, a community activist, and the founder of the Girl Scouting movement in the US.  Cordery introduces us to "Daisy's" friends, family, collaborators, and the few detractors who are portrayed honestly and without rancor. The illustrations are numerous and telling.  It was unanticipated fun to sit and pour through pictures that, while they were definitely before my time, did emphasize the timelessness of the Scouts, and brought back fond memories for me of my days around the camp-fire.  Through it all, Daisy Low is presented as a very down-to-earth, not without her foibles human being, bearing up to physical disabilities, personal betrayals, loneliness, and frustration who still managed to find the fun, to bring her inimitable sense of humor and grace to a life of staggering challenges, and in the end emerge as a national and on-going role model for young women.

It is particularly notable as a publication to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Girl Scouts this year.  Happy Birthday Girl Scouts, and best wishes for 100 more.


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