Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Putting Makeup On Dead People by Jen Violi

What You Need to Know:   This is a well-done, quirky coming of age story with an appealing main character that struggles under too many divergent themes.

Summary:  Donna’s dad died her freshman year of high school.  Now getting ready to graduate, Donna realilzes that she’s walked through the last four years in a fog, just getting by, not making any connections or feeling much of anything.   She goes to school, goes to church and doesn’t do much else.  The death of a classmate wakes her up to possibilities, specifically, the possibilities of a career in mortuary science.  Investigating at a local funeral home, Donna discovers a talent for working with the dead and bereaved, and spurred on by the new girl at school, she starts to let go of her past and build a future.  However, letting go is easier said than done.

What Works:  Donna is a very likeable girl.  She is a little closed off, but as you come to understand her life, her distance seems reasonable (if sad).  Donna’s quirky voice and unique POV brings a lot of humor and tenderness to what could be a very bleak story.   The funeral home setting is unique, and the staff that works there nicely humanized.   Many unconventional characters populate Donna’s world, and they are convincingly portrayed, with warmth and understanding.  Also, Donna’s battles with her mom – about religion, life choices and boys -- felt very real, and the blame is equally spread on both sides.   

What Doesn’t: Whenever Donna begins to doubt herself, up pops another eccentric character to remind her of her choices and reaffirm her purpose.  It stretches credulity just a tad.  Also, the discussions of alternative religions and the role the church plays in Donna’s life aren’t as fleshed out as they could be. 

However:  I was not raised in a religious family, and have a very “whatever works, brah”  attitude towards faith.  Someone with a background similar to Donna’s might find more meaning here.  

Please Note:  Awesome cover! 

Who would I give this book to?  Teens seeking a different kind of bildungsroman.  Fans of shows like Six Feet Under and Pushing Daisies.  

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