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Tattoos, a Funeral Home, and a Cat Named Bob
Three new memoirs make the most of teen-friendly subject matter.
First, a celebrity memoir by Don Ed Hardy, the man who helped bring tattoo art into the mainstream. Hardy knew from the age of 10, when he was using colored pencils to give his friends “tattoos,” what he wanted to do with his life. He changed American culture, and he turned his art into a hugely lucrative brand. The LA Review of Books published a great piece by Margot Mifflin last week that puts Hardy’s work in perspective. For a look at the art, see the Ed Hardy Archive. For a sample of Hardy’s writing, MacMillan offers an excerpt of the book’s first chapter.
Sheri Booker was 15 when she accepted a summer job working at Wylie’s Funeral Home, an African-American funeral home in Baltimore. As you might tell from the title of her book, Nine Years Under, she stayed longer than expected. This might be an interesting pairing with Mary Roach’s Stiff, although Booker’s sense of humor is more gentle and her story more personal. The author originally took the job in reaction to losing a favorite aunt quickly followed by learning that her mother was seriously ill. (For more about the author, the Baltimore Sun offers a short, but good, interview.)
And finally, the story of a stray cat that helped a homeless man turn his life around. A Street Cat Named Bob became hugely popular in Great Britain when it was published last year, and it is shaping up to be equally successful here. James Bowen was homeless and addicted, busking on the streets of London when he rescued Bob. Bowen tells his own story in a heartwarming video that highlights his new-found popularity in England. For animal fans, this is a great choice. It is also recommended as a story that brings the realities of being homeless into focus.
Adult/High School–Trained at the San Francisco Art Institute, Hardy went into the little known (at the time) field of tattooing and became internationally known for his work. When he met fashion designer Christian Audigier, his designs went on perfume bottles, t-shirts, bags, and more, creating a multi-billion dollar empire. Teens will be fascinated by his story, which he tells in a breezy, scattered fashion, including tons of tidbits (sometimes buried too much in the scatter, but there nevertheless) to pique their interest: the Museum of Pathology in Japan, where more than 105 tattooed human skins have been preserved, the yakuza (gangster) culture of Japan, and the story of Sailor Jerry’s pet chimpanzee, who had AL tattooed on one side of his butt check and OHA on the other so that when he bent over and looked through this legs it said ALOHA. Beginning in 1960 and ending in 2008, the book includes plenty of rambling adventure and name dropping all over the map–literally and figuratively. Through it all, Hardy focuses on being an independent artist, taking risks and following where his heart and interests lead. While he acknowledges that he is an addict, and got sober in the early ’80’s when he was at the height of his fame, he doesn’t spend a lot of time on the nitty gritty, making this a perfect choice for a fairly clean read about an underground topic.–Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library, Juvenile Hall, CA
Adult/High School–As happens for many teens, a connection at church offered Booker a summer job she didn’t even know she wanted–an evening receptionist at a funeral home in West Baltimore. All she was supposed to do was answer the phone and the door. No connection with the bodies. At first this was plentiful, relatively easy work but, as in many family businesses, “other duties as assigned” came up. She graduated to assisting in obituary writing, singing at funerals, and eventually trips to the basement where the embalming and dressing of corpses took place. In one particularly strong anecdote, Booker picks up a body and stops for lunch. The strengths of the book are these individual episodes, which deal with the nature of grief, the finances of the funeral industry, and the marginalized of the inner city (gang members and transsexuals both make more than a few appearances). This is the author’s first book, and in places her immaturity shows–from the overwritten first paragraph to transitions that don’t entirely work. But there is no doubting her interesting youth, and it’s this that will draw teens in.–Jamie Watson, Baltimore County Public Library, MD
Adult/High School–Bowen is an Australian living in London. In and of itself, that is not interesting. His descent into addiction and homelessness is, but it’s not the focus of this book, either. It’s the entry of Bob, an injured street cat, into Bowen’s life that readers learn about–one of those man-meets-feline (or is it feline-meets-man?) love stories that warms the heart. When they meet, Bowen is trying to get his life together; he’s on methadone and he’s eking out a living busking around Covent Garden. The addition of Bob means that he has someone not only to care about, but also to care for, and the responsibility weighs heavily on him. His new friend also adds to Bowen’s income, as Bob wins the hearts of the Londoners passing by Bowen’s guitar case, now featuring a snoozing Bob in addition to his earnings. The courage he shows in getting his life together, moving from the streets and heroin to an apartment, going clean and caring for Bob, will impress readers. Those who loved John Grogan’s Marley and Me (2005), Tom Ryan’s Following Atticus (2012, both Morrow), or Peter Gethers’s The Cat Who Went to Paris (Ballantine, 1992) will enjoy reading about Bowen and Bob’s relationship, but they’ll also need several tissues while reading.–Laura Pearle, Miss Porter’s School, Farmington, CT
About Angela Carstensen
Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.
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