Books: The Cheapest Vacation You Can Buy

{May 24, 2011}   Releasing Today: Putting Makeup on Dead People, by Jen Violi

From Goodreads: 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 exceptional…at loving, applying lipstick to corpses, and finding life in the wake of death.


Disney-Hyperion was extremely gracious to allow me to read an ARC of this novel prior to its release today.  I must admit, I wanted to read this novel for the mortician aspect—I’ve always wanted to be a mortician.  I know it’s morbid, but I’ve always had a weird fascination with death, so I was easily able to connect with Donna on this level.  I had hoped for more of the story to center around the funeral home and actually putting makeup on dead people, but the focus of the book isn’t really about that at all, or even the job of a mortician.  Instead, this novel focuses on Donna Parisi’s coming of age.  Lost and forlorn, Donna still struggles with the death of her father, and she must battle her metaphorical ghosts and learn to move on.  While I enjoyed this portion of the story, I did find the narrative to be a bit too slow for my taste.  As Donna deals with different aspects of her life, such as her mother, love interests, finding a job, and deciding on a school for college, she seems to just glide along.  I’m more of an action lover, and this novel doesn’t really deal with that aspect much, though its real life parallels were interesting in their own right. 

Violi is a talented writer and this shines through as the story progresses.  The dialogue and situations occurring in the novel are very real, and I can just see them taking place.  I enjoyed watching Donna’s self exploration and her eventual epiphany as it all came together, and I think the characters in this novel are very lifelike—I actually see myself in Donna a little bit, though I’m ashamed to say it—she can be quite mean to those who love her.  The one aspect of the writing that I wasn’t a fan of, though, is the sexual portions in the novel.  I could have done without these segments, and I don’t think they really add anything to the novel.  While many readers may not find the sexual encounters explicit, I did, and these characteristics just aren’t my thing.  Granted, the scenes are fairly short, but just the same, I like my YA novels to be sex free; it’s a personal thing.  Aside from the sex, though, I think this was a sweet coming of age novel that many will enjoy.  Two and a half stars.


et cetera
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