Review: Putting Makeup On Dead People by Jen Violi


I’ll be the first to admit that contemporary YA is not my go-to genre when it comes to picking something to read. (It’s something I am working on, I promise.) But when I saw a YA book called “Putting Makeup On Dead People” and it turned out to be about a girl who makes the decision that the perfect career for her was to be a mortician, I knew I had to read it. The book I got was a funny and heartfelt tale about a girl who makes an unconventional decision but one that is right for her and how it helped her with her own grieving process for her father, lost a few years before.

Let’s get it out of the way: Putting Makeup On Dead People is a morbid little book (at times, anyway) and deals a lot with the subject of death – both how we deal with it and the way we prepare our dead for burial. There is a lot more to what Donna learns than just the art of making a dead person look good – the medical aspects and the ways people die are touched upon as well. While I found this fascinating (we seem for example, Donna’s journal of the deaths and funerals of people, ranging from famous people to people she helps work on to her own family members), I was also well aware as I was reading it that this book was not going to be for everyone, for that very reason. Even I would have to have made sure that I was in the right place before picking it up; as I learned of what happens with regards to preparation I naturally thought back to the last funeral I attended (that of my Nana) and thought of how all this pertained to that. Had I read this book closer to the time, I suspect I would have found this book more upsetting than enjoyable/fascinating, and I suspect there will be some for whom Putting Makeup On Dead People will not be their book (and that’s totally okay).

One thing I was surprised to find in Putting Makeup On Dead People was the humour – or rather, the type of humour. While I was expecting some humor of the graveyard kind – that is how some people deal with it, after all, and I’d always imagined that anyone involved in such a career would have to have a sense of humor – I was not expecting some of it. And not just one woman’s wishes for her viewing, either. It was things like Fedora Dentist (as I dubbed him in retelling of a scene to friends), the humour of the personalities in a person’s life – the humiliating moments, the awkwardly hilarious moments, all of them. Because although this is a book about death and grief its best match was the laughter, as that is what helps us move on. Whether it’s a real-life discussion of something the deceased did or the ridiculous actions of someone living, laughter is needed, is natural.

The other thing I liked was how this was a tale about a girl who had a dream and who followed through with it. She knew what her purpose in life was, she found something she enjoyed and she went after it despite the disapproval of people who wanted her to do something more conventional. It is always nice to see protagonists with major goals that they pursue seriously, just as it was to see one whose family is actually present and cares for her, even if they don’t get it right in the way they go about it.

Final note: I stayed up past midnight to read this book. That has to mean it’s good, right?

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Catherine is a reader, writer, graphic designer and Pokémon Master from New Zealand. When she's not trying to catch 'em all, she is either lost in her thoughts, pretending to work on her novel or reading way too much about dead things.


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