Sunday, May 1, 2011

Putting Makeup on Dead People by Jen Violi

Title: Putting Makeup on Dead People
Author: Jen Violi
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion/Hyperion
Release Date: May 24th, 2011
Pages: 336 pages (Digital ARC)
How I Got the Book: From the publisher via NetGalley.

In the spring of her senior year, Donna Parisi finds new life in an unexpected place:  a coffin.

Since her father's death four years ago, Donna has gone through the motions of living:  her friendships are empty, she's clueless about what to do after high school graduation, and her grief keeps her isolated, cut off even from the one parent she has left.  That is until she's standing in front of the dead body of a classmate at Brighton Brothers' Funeral Home.  At that moment, Donna realizes what might just give her life purpose is comforting others in death.  That maybe who she really wants to be is a mortician.

This discovery sets in motion a life Donna never imagined was possible.  She befriends a charismatic new student, Liz, notices a boy, Charlie, and realizes that maybe he's been noticing her, too, and finds herself trying things she hadn't dreamed of trying before.  By taking risks, Donna comes into her own, diving into her mortuary studies with a passion and skill she didn't know she had in her.  And she finally understands that moving forward doesn't mean forgetting someone you love.

Jen Violi's heartfelt and funny debut novel is a story of transformation-how one girl learns to grieve and say goodbye, turn loss into a gift, and let herself be loving, applying lipstick to corpses, and finding life in the wake of death.


(A review that isn't the length of an essay! I feel so proud of myself!)

Four years after Donna's beloved father died, she's almost a ghost, just floating along in life and letting her future be picked out by other people. Then she attends a funeral for a classmate and it suddenly clicks: She wants to work with dead people for a living. With the encouragement of a vibrant new friend named Liz, Donna decides to become a mortician so she can prepare dead bodies for their funerals. While finding new life in dealing with death, Donna must deal with the troubled relationship that has developed between her and her mother and choose between the cute college boy Tim or environment-loving classmate Charlie.

To start with, I loved Donna's narrative voice and the general style in which the book was written. Writing about the aftermath of a loved one's death if a difficult feat because it can so easily turn into a pit of angst that no reader wants to touch. Putting Makeup on Dead People avoided this pit and managed to inject a little humor into the situation per Donna's inner thoughts. Of all the books about loved ones dying, I don't think I've ever seen one where the main character decides to work in a mortuary. Points are most certainly given for coming up with an original idea out of one of the most well-tread plot lines around.

Putting Makeup's deathly slow pacing needs tightening, especially because the novel is character-driven instead of plot-driven. For such a large cast of characters, only Donna and her mother are characters with depth and more to them than just a recognizable trait or two, but these two characters and their troubled relationship creates one of the novel's strong points wen dwelt on as much as it is. An important part of the "loved one dies" plot line is to show how the death affects many of the characters and off the facets of even minor characters that way, and this is something Putting Makeup couldn't do. All these flaws togther kept me from being emotionally invested in Donna's story.

This book really should have two stars. I have a rule than any book that can't make me care is automatically three ukuleles and with all the book's flaws in mind, that would pile on another smack of the ukulele. However, the improvement of the novel towards the end--and I mean by the end, as in the last thirty pages--will make me feel bad if I give this book four ukuleles. Despite the rating I gave it, this actually isn't a bad book. It's mostly due to my golden rule my rating is this low. Give it a try if it catches your eye and you might find that you can invest yourself in it the way I couldn't.

3 stars!

What am I reading next?: Wherever You Go by Heather Davis