In Thin Mint Memories, Shelley Johnson Carey takes readers into the world of Girl Scouts — a rich, vivid world that empowers, educates, and supports girls and women. While most people envision cookie sales and campouts, Carey shows us a multifaceted business and a brand protected and nurtured from New Orleans to New York, from Silver Spring to Savannah.
Carey starts at the beginning, with the story of Daisy Low, a divorcée and entrepreneur who launched a “guides” group for girls that broke barriers (and continues to do so today). Along the way, girls stumbled into the cookie business by way of their own ovens and ingenuity, and the Girl Scout cookie was born. With a deft hand, Carey weaves a tale of yesterday and today, of corporate and kids, of cookies and memories. She shows us what being a Girl Scout means, what the cookies mean, and how they create a means to an end. Girl Scout cookie lovers, some of whom are themselves Girl Scouts (because once a Scout, always a Scout), share their own memories of scouting and cookies, making this book not only large in scope but also surprisingly intimate.
The book is well-written, crisp and clean as the Thin Mints Carey pays tribute to in the title. Each chapter captures a different facet of the industry, the cookie business (indeed, it is a business) and its benefits — and what it means to a particular troop. I knew troops received only a small fraction of the cookie sale money, but I didn’t know how else the money was used. This book tells the whole story.
Girl Scout cookies have a mystique and draw, which the National Office nurtures well. Cookies are sold only once a year, at a certain time, and if you miss that window — well, you’ll be on your game next year, won’t you? The bakeries, hidden and protected against “terrorism” seems a little excessive, but food safety is serious business — and few things are more attractive than the forbidden, as the author herself demonstrates. Something Carey didn’t address was the use of cookie flavoring outside of the cookie sales, such as coffee creamers. I would have liked to know how the National Office sees the future of the Girl Scout cookie. The group was reticent to embrace technology, for example, so what other practices will be approached with extreme caution or will be outright forbidden until they proves safe, popular or profitable?
My favorite part of the book was the memories. It took me to my own memory, about how a Girl Scout made me reconsider my own support of every commercial enterprise.
I never really thought about Girl Scout cookies until my friend, Corinne, became a Girl Scout. Oh, I ate them and bought them, but they were just part of the fabric of my suburban American life. Corinne changed all that. Suddenly, it wasn’t just “Girl Scouts,” but my Girl Scout. It wasn’t just “cookies,” but a fundraiser to help my Girl Scout’s troop accomplish empowering, fun goals. It wasn’t an order sheet circulated by a scout’s mom (or dad, to be fair), but a young girl who donned her vest over her pajamas one evening to respond to Aunt Chris’s cookie inquiry. From that day forward, I pledged to buy at least one box from any Girl Scout who asked.
Disappointingly, despite this Cookie Pledge, some years I go cookie-less. It should always be about the Girl Scout, not the cookie. This book reminds me of the real reason for Girl Scout cookies, and I hope other readers will take to heart what Girl Scouts really is all about, and how the modest cookie can help educate, strengthen, and empower girls to be their best.
—Chris Fow Cohen