Wednesday, June 8, 2011

"Putting Makeup on Dead People"

That title got your attention, right? Mine, too, but maybe not for the same reasons (unless you are my sister!) You see, our maternal grandfather owned and ran a funeral home, and our uncle now owns and runs it, so a book about a teenager who wants to be a mortician is right up my alley.

True tale:
Before my grandparents went out for a big night on the town while my mom was growing up, my grandmother would lie down on the kitchen table so my grandfather could apply her party makeup. He couldn't do it unless she was very still and prone (a.k.a. pretending to be dead). So I knew I had to read Putting Makeup on Dead People by Jen Violi from the title alone.

Here's why YOU have to read this book, too (whether your my sister or anyone else):

This is a hilarious, beautiful, meaningful coming of age story. The main character, Donna, lost her father several years ago. Her brother has been away at college, her mother doesn't understand her, and she feels invisible at school. During her senior year, she realizes that the only place she really feels comfortable, the only place she really connects with people, is at the local funeral home. So she approaches the owners and asks what it takes to be a mortician.

One of the brothers who runs the funeral home explains that the main qualification for the job is "loving the whole person." This really resonated with me. It's a perfect lesson for a teenage girl who is trying to learn to love herself, but it's also such a comforting thought to anyone who is grieving. You can interpret the whole person as the good and the bad, the living and the dead. It reminds me of a meaningful zen story Richard Farr told me about Buddhist appreciation: that when we love someone, we love them partly for their beautiful fragility, that when we love someone completely, we love who they are, who they were, and who they will (or will not) be, like appreciating the teacup as something crafted by someone, as a lovely object to hold, and as something which will break some day and no longer exist except in our memories. (Apologies to everyone for my mangling in the retelling.)

That went on a long tangent, but suffice to say that this book has it all: Donna's hilarious and honest voice, tender flashbacks, wacky relatives, pagan rituals, great friendships, and even sexy romances! It's a teen read, but I think it would also make a good summer read for adults.

1 comment:

Rene' Kirkpatrick said...

So loved this book! I found a lot of meaning in it for me. I love your family's story!