Author: Jen Violi

Review: Putting Makeup On Dead People by Jen Violi

Posted on 09/02/2011 in Book Review / 7 Comments

Review: Putting Makeup On Dead People by Jen VioliPutting Makeup On Dead People by Jen Violi
Published by Hyperion Books on 5/24/2011
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 336
Format: Hardcover
Source: Won

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.


Everyone who has seen me with this book in hand has commented on the cover. It’s strange, right? Upside down face with flowers. Then you read the title: Putting Makeup On Dead People. And you think, what? That’s a dead person on the cover! The title and the cover are both captivating. I was really excited when I won this book from April at My Shelf Confessions! Thanks, April!

Confession time: I lost my stepfather, a man who had been in my life as a father figure for a long time, when I was just 23 years old after four years of battling cancer. I think as we get older, we accept that our parents won’t be around forever, but 23 is too young to lose a parent. Even when you’ve had time to prepare. Because no one is prepared. And to be quite honest, it’s harder on the survivors than those who slowly pass away, because we have to live with the after. “After” can be quite a bitch.

And that’s why Putting Makeup On Dead People sucked me right in. Told in the first person, it follows the story of Donna Parisi, a senior in high school, as she deals with the aftermath of losing her father four years earlier. She has friends, and yet she still feels lost and alone. She attends church with her mother and siblings, but she’s a robot going through the motions. I identified with her on so many levels. Everything she felt, I felt. Jen Violi writes such a terrific, heartening story of finding oneself, carefully weaving the fabric of it for our own pleasure. Violi MUST be Italian; she nailed the Italian-American family right on the head, describing the wails of loss, and family members virtually throwing themselves into loved ones’ graves, not to mention the extended family dynamics. It all felt really, really familiar (because I’m Italian, too and totally just get it!). More than just a first-person story, it also details the transformation teenagers go through as they reach through youth to adulthood and begin making their own decisions. Life’s hard, and sometimes we don’t realize it until we feel like we’re all we’ve got, teaching ourselves self-sufficiency. Donna, in particular, decides to scrap University of Dayton, the institution where she has already been accepted, and attend mortuary school. Death fascinates her and I think she yearns to understand it on a level some of us never will. I liked how each chapter ended: with a short memo of the funeral of the moment. Those were like little candies hidden throughout the novel, and I laughed at most of them, because frankly, people can really be that ridiculous!

If you enjoy Young Adult, and don’t mind a slightly morbid flair, grab this right now and go read it. I promise you won’t be disappointed.


Favorite Quote

“What kind of shots?” I ask. “Red Roosters.”  He lines up three shot glasses. Liz grins at me; I can tell she’s working to get my spirits up.  She slaps her hand on the bar.  “Well, cock-a-doodle-do.” Derek winks as he pours.  “Any cock’ll do.” I guess I won’t be making out with Derek tonight.


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This book was won in a giveaway.  Blurb courtesy of Goodreads.

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