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Putting Makeup on Dead People

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

Since her father’s death four years ago, Donna has gone through the motions of 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.

326 pages, Hardcover

First published May 24, 2011

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About the author

Jen Violi

9 books54 followers
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA, Jen Violi has since made her home in such places as Dayton, OH, Goodyear, AZ, New Orleans, LA, and Takoma Park, MD. Jen has currently staked her claim in Portland, Oregon, where the greenery is plentiful, the creative spirit palpable, and the fresh coffee available every few feet -- just how she likes it. At the University of Dayton, Jen completed both a BA in English and Theatre and an MA in Theological Studies and worked for seven years in campus ministry, ultimately as Director of Retreats and Faith Development. During her time at UD, she wrote and directed over fourteen spiritual dramas and facilitated numerous retreat experiences on campus and elsewhere. In 2004, she journeyed to the University of New Orleans, where she gained an MFA in Creative Writing, an appetite for spicy food, and a love for Earth religions. Via Portland, Jen continues to serve as adjunct faculty for the Applied Healing Arts master's degree program at Tai Sophia Institute in Laurel, MD. Currently, she's also launching her own business, offering services such as creative writing coaching; workshop, retreat, and ritual facilitating; and officiating wedding ceremonies. Jen's fiction has been published in The Baltimore Review, and she's hard at work on her second novel. Through her being and doing, she seeks to honor the sacred in all of its forms and the profound healing power of stories.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 244 reviews
Profile Image for Vinaya.
185 reviews2,091 followers
April 4, 2011
Have you ever seen those ridiculously cheesy but adorable pictures of Anne Geddes babies?

FLOWER BABY Pictures, Images and Photos

If you have anything close to a maternal instinct, they're the sort of pictures that make you get misty-eyed, laugh a little, and coo over the baby. This was similar to my reaction to Putting Makeup on Dead People. It's a surprising book about loss, redemption and finding your way back.

Donna Parisi's been floating in a quiet space ever since her father passed away. She goes to school, she pretends to be normal, but she's just drifting through life. Until the day one of her classmates dies, and she finds herself back at the funeral parlor where her dad was waked. Surprisingly, Donna finds herself intrigued by the prospect of working on dead people, and a conversation with the owner of the funeral home guides her path to mortuary school. But finding her career doesn't mean everything is a-ok in Donna's life. The path to recovery and change proves longer and much more arduous.

Donna's got a great voice. It's straightforward, moving, with the most surprising touches of humor. In fact, the main reason this book rates three stars in my book (three and a half, to be exact) is because it manages to infuse humor into a character and a situation that could so easily have descended into unmitigated angst. Putting Makeup looks very clearly at the trauma faced by the people who get left behind when a loved one dies. Donna's reactions are not always healthy or rational, but her eventual message of change and redemption leaves the reader on an optimistic high.

However, this book is far from being perfect. The pacing of the book is slow to begin with, and towards the middle third, slows down almost unbearably. Since this is almost entirely a character-driven novel, with next to no plot to speak of, this is a bad thing. Too many disconnected narratives are left hanging. People that Donna reaches out to and connects with, but who never get a solid fleshed-out characterization. Donna's friendship with Liz is touted as being significant, but while Liz has the potential to be an interesting character, she leaves town too often to actually be of any import in Donna's life, and by the last third of the book, has lost any significance to the plot whatsoever. Similarly, her brother Brendan ends up being a half-and-half sketch, not entirely in the background, but not a fully-realized character either. Donna makes a great effort to reach out to her Aunt Selena, but apart from meeting her a couple of times and receiving sage advice that makes no impression on her, there was absolutely no point to the introduction of that character.

The real movers in this plot are Donna and her mother, and with them, Violi has done a great job. Donna's conflicted feelings about her mother moving on with her life, her unwillingness to let go of the ghost of her father and her inability to rise above the fog of loss and inadequacy surrounding her are all portrayed movingly. I did get a little impatient with Donna's moping, but since it eventually gave her the motivation to change her life, I guess I can live with that.

The love angle in this book was interesting. There's Tim, the wanna-be free spirit and Charlie, the flower child who likes her from a distance, and Donna's conflict between finding true love and settling for the first boy who actually displays interest in her, even if he is a bit of an asshole. I also liked the fact that this book intertwined religious themes in the plotline without getting preachy, although I am not generally a fan of books with religious messages.

All-in-all, Putting Makeup on Dead People was an interesting, if somewhat slow read. I like Violi's style, and I'll definitely be looking out for her other books in the future.

Disclosure: A copy of this ARC was provided to me by the publishers via Net Galley. No external considerations affected this review.
Profile Image for Crowinator.
810 reviews361 followers
September 23, 2011
I'm probably the only person that cried over this funny, compassionate book about growing up, discovering yourself, and coping with life after the death of a loved one, but we all know that I am a huge weepy sap, anyway. I love character-driven stories, and while this one doesn't exactly go where I expected (because it is also largely plotless, with a lot of interesting avenues -- mortuary school classes, for example -- left unexplored), it also gave me a satisfying, meaningful experience. I connected with Donna's slightly off sense of humor, her observations of the people around her, and her frequent insights into her own life that still don't result in immediate changes in her thinking or behavior. Donna is confused and sad and hilarious and very real. Violi's writing is expressive and unique, and she does a great job conveying complicated emotional stuff in small, simple ways. There's some really great stuff in here and I can't wait to see what Violi does next.
Profile Image for Liz.
Author 11 books259 followers
April 19, 2011
The title of this book had me at hello. The jacket flap sealed the deal. The reading made me full of long and joy and delight.

From page one, I climbed into Donna's back pocket and was totally wrapped up in her journey though this book. I haven't rooted so hard for a character in a long time. I just wanted everything to be all right for her. She makes some great decisions, some terrible ones, but they all seemed really necessary at the time.

I loved the naked honesty of the narrative, and Donna's views of other people throughout. She's very observant, even though she's stand-offish. I even enjoyed the impact of Catholicism on the book, which I did not expect. Normally, I'm not taken with religious characters. But here, Donna's faith and relationship with religion were an integral part of her journey without defining her or constraining her. Violi played her hand beautifully here.

The secondary characters in this book, especially Liz, were as real as Donna herself, and I really enjoyed how Violi kept them from being stereotypes. Yes, Liz was the independent, free spirit, but she was not predictable. Yes, her sister, Linnie, was the angsty goth type, but she turned out to be more open-minded at the end than almost anyone.

There were so many delightful things about this book, I could wax poetic for pages. But I'd rather you just read the book and experience it for yourself. You won't regret it.
Profile Image for A Book Vacation.
1,431 reviews716 followers
May 12, 2011
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.

To read my full review:

Profile Image for Kate.
Author 15 books837 followers
April 15, 2011
I read this ARC via NetGalley.

Three years after her father's death, high school senior Donna is still feeling the loss. When she attends the funeral of a classmate, she ends up talking to one of the men who run the funeral home, and that's when she begins thinking about how she might like to work at a funeral home, putting make up on dead people. Most of her friends aren't too thrilled about her new career path, with the exception of Liz, the new girl who has a gift of making everything positive. Liz's acceptance leads Donna to apply to a mortuary science college.
Donna's mother doesn't like her decision, even as Donna begins a summer internship at the funeral home and starts to come to terms with her father's death.

I first heard about this title from a webinar talking about new Spring 2011 titles, and this sounded like a fun, quirky book. Unfortunately, I found it lacking in quirky. The story seemed to drag in places, partially because the narrator has an emotional disconnect. Nothing really seems to affect her until the very end, when she's fighting with her mother. She is clearly somewhat attracted to her friend Charlie, but there is no flirting or anything. Then she starts dating a college guy named Tim, and they have a rather intimate encounter in the backseat of a car - her sexual feelings for Tim seem to come out of nowhere, and she seems extremely comfortable with her sexuality even though it doesn't seem like she ever had a boyfriend before or engaged in any of these sexual acts. Charlie is a sort of serious hippie type, and the way Donna flirts with him felt very out-of-sync. Liz, though she is a major part in the first half of the novel, disappears at the end. I understand that Donna was dealing with her emotional disconnect, but I didn't like feeling the disconnect with her as a reader.
Profile Image for Sesana.
5,334 reviews343 followers
April 24, 2016
This book had me from the prologue. Donna is fourteen. Her father is dying, and it's time for her to say goodbye. And I felt just exactly the same when I was nineteen, and my father was dying, and it was time for me to say goodbye. It's rare for me to read a book about grief where I fully identify with the way the main character feels it. I'm not saying that those other forms of grief are wrong, or badly written, just not mine. And in so many ways, through so many situations, Donna was feeling my grief. For that reason, take my reaction to this book with an entire shaker full of salt, because I couldn't possibly be objective.

So. It's now four years past her father's death, and Donna still feels stuck, and drifting. And then, a little suddenly, she decides she wants to go into the funeral business. Her mother absolutely cannot understand this, which is somewhat reasonable. It's a career path well outside of the expected, and Donna makes her decision, and springs it on her mother, sort of suddenly. And Donna can't explain how her mother is suddenly dating her hot yoga teacher, which is somewhat less reasonable. Then again, maybe I would have felt the same when I was eighteen. I hope that I wouldn't have. Reasonable or not, it was at least understandable.

Other readers who don't identify so strongly with Donna will probably find the pace a little too slow. There's large chunks of the book where nothing much happens. Donna's new friend, Liz, is essentially a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. And the actual mortuary science gets very short coverage in a book that you could reasonably expect would have more of it. All very valid concerns, but ones that didn't affect my enjoyment of this book.
Profile Image for Skye.
279 reviews68 followers
April 15, 2011
The title, the cover, and the premise automatically made me want to read this book. The cover's simple, colourful, and cute, and the title is odd. I'm also getting into realistic YA, about family and grieving and the like.

Donna is a realistic character with a clear, unique voice. The first-person narration is raw and extremely honest. I never really knew what people meant when they said the voice was "honest" until I read books like this. She was definitely relatable, which made it easy to sympathise with her.

The relationship dynamics between Donna and her family members, between Donna and her friends, and between Donna and people she meets over the course of the novel all felt realistically built.

Her interest in becoming a mortician, though pretty 'out there', made sense for the character. I admired how although she cared what other people thought about her ambition, she didn't let their opinions sway her. She was determined.

If I had to some this novel up in one word, it'd be 'sweet'.

I give Putting Makeup On Dead People a 5 out of 5, and recommend any realistic YA fans to keep an eye out for it in July. It reminded me vaguely of Other Words For Love, so definitely check this one out if you liked that.
Profile Image for Megan.
568 reviews7 followers
January 30, 2017
The smooth, glossy prose makes this book go down easily... but I am not so sure that is a good thing.

There are four main "strands" to this story: Donna's pursuit of becoming a mortician, her strained relationship with her mother, her love life, and her spirituality. The first strand, and the only one that is prominently featured on the back blurb and summary, is far and away the most interesting. Donna's interest in mortuary science is unique, and the way the story takes us behind the scenes at a funeral home is fascinating and not morbid at all. I was a little frustrated, however, that the story never truly answered the question of why Donna wants to be a mortician. It seems to imply that it is just her calling, and never really delves into questions like "if Donna's dad had never died, would she still want to be a mortician?" This wouldn't be that big a flaw if the story itself had not raised the issue early on, and then never delivered on the answer.

Donna's relationship with her mother is weird because both of the characters are written so unreasonably at different points, and it's not always clear if the characters and/or the story know how unreasonable they are being. I remember being 18 and having terrible fights with my mom, but the fights in this story seem to blow in out of the blue (one of the characters will blow up out of nowhere, or will seem to deliberately bait the other), and then just sort of dissolve away because they love each other. I never understood why Donna's mom came around on the issue of Donna being a mortician, or if she really did (and didn't just say so for the sake of preserving her relationship with her daughter) or the issue of . Even when I knew why the characters were reconciling, they never really seemed to resolve things.

The previous are relatively minor criticisms of the writing. Now, to some serious issues with the content. Despite being about a senior in high school, the first third of the book could easily be read by a 13-14 year old, aside from one (very gratuitous) use of the F-bomb, and some hints of spirituality issues (to be discussed later) that careful parents might object to. The vocabulary is simple, and the view of high school presented is a realistic, maybe even toned-down one, with no hint of drugs, no cursing, and only a brief mention of sex in the abstract that clearly makes most of the students uncomfortable (and prompts one student to clarify that sex belongs in marriage only). And then, just before the halfway point, Donna meets a guy at a party, and out of the blue, things start getting sexual between them. I literally did a double-take because it was so jarring from the then-tone of the book. As an adult reader, I was mostly stunned at what Donna allowed and by her ignorance about her own body (was this supposed to be because she was Catholic? She went to a public school, for heavens sake? I assume she had Sex-Ed at some point), but as a teacher I thought about all the young teens who would blunder on to this scene and the ones that followed blindsided.

Laying aside the appropriateness, Donna's relationship with Tim is such an unhealthy one that it constantly had me lowering my opinion of the main character and her emotional state. I went from seeing her as a very together young woman who just had a few issues that she needed to iron out, to an emotionally needy girl who was desperately grabbing at a crappy romance to try to plug the holes in her life. It's also stupidly obvious who Donna is "supposed to" be with, so I am really unsure what the point of making us endure the whole thing with Tim was. Maybe to assure us that Donna's not a lesbian, despite the oodles of questionable subtext between her and her best friend? (Telling us that she "can't breathe" when her friend, who she constantly describes as gorgeous, strips down in front of her really does not read as straight.)

The other huge colossal issue that overshadowed all the things I liked about this book was the way spirituality is handled. At the beginning of the story, Donna considers herself Catholic like the rest of her family, but is already internally questioning everything because it "feels like a fairy tale" to her. At no point are any specific questions of theology or belief/disbelief discussed in any way. At no point does Donna discuss Catholicism with any other character beyond a very brief "do I have to go to church" with her mom. There's just this general "sense" that it's all about "following the rules" and kneeling and standing up when people tell you to. Mostly, however, it seems like the Catholic people in the story just aren't as cool as the New Age ones.

Donna's insta-best friend Liz (it is WEIRD how quickly they become besties and how much Donna's family loves her) calls herself a Pagan, wants to be a Witch (these are the story's capital letters, not mine), gives charms, totems, and ritual candles to Donna. Her beauty, coolness, and effortless authenticity are constantly being shoved in the reader's face. Donna's Aunt Selena is a practicing Witch, who is estranged from her Catholic family. She is implied to have real powers (the whole seeing Donna's dead relatives thing), tells Donna that all her family knows is dark magic with demons, and encourages Donna to worship Mother Earth in her own way. Her beauty, coolness, and effortless authenticity are constantly being shoved in the reader's face. Donna's mom's yoga teacher/boyfriend (obvious twist is obvious) teaches her to find peaceful responses, to mediate, and to be vegetarian. His beauty, coolness, and effortless authenticity are constantly being shoved in the reader's face, even if Donna doesn't take to him for a while. Donna's cute classmate/Mr. Right Charlie is an environmentalist who celebrates Harvest Festival instead of Thanksgiving and encourages Donna to "find her own holy" and make up her own god. His cuteness, coolness, and effortless authenticity are constantly being shoved in the reader's face.

Notice a pattern? Traditional religion never stood a chance, never mind how stupid it is for Donna to drift away from Christianity because it is hard to believe in favor of a do-your-own-thing New Age buffet where she chooses to visualize God as a female sea turtle. (Yes, seriously)

Overall, an interesting premise, but the smooth clarity of Violi's prose only highlights the poor messages of her story.
4 reviews
August 1, 2022
One of my all time favorites. I first read it in high school, but since then I've gone through college and this book remained relateable the whole way through. While Donna's interests and troubles were unique to her, the social issues and emotional conflict that she goes through were written so well, and I definitely saw myself in them. I find myself coming back to this book often, even now that I've been graduated for a couple of years, because it's both a good story and a bittersweet reminder of what it's like to first set off on your own.
Profile Image for Miss Bookiverse.
1,971 reviews72 followers
December 24, 2014
Dieses Buch ist so wie ich mir die Hintergrundmusik in einem Bestattungsinstitut vorstelle: leise, beruhigend und tröstlich. Protagonistin Donna fällt es kurz vor Ende ihrer Schulkarriere wie Schuppe von den Augen: sie will nicht wie ursprünglich geplant Communications studieren sondern sich zur Bestatterin ausbilden lassen. Dieser Aspekt hat einen äußerst interessanten Handlungsspielraum für die Geschichte eröffnet. Mein Wissen über amerikanische Bestattungsinstitute beschränkte sich bisher auf die TV-Serie Six Feet Under, an die ich während des Lesens auch ständig denken musste. In Putting Makeup On Dead People konnte ich erfahren, was man so alles lernt, wenn man Bestatter wird, wie lange die Ausbildung dauert und mit was für Situationen man konfrontiert werden kann.

Insgesamt bietet der Roman aber nur einen sehr kleinen Einblick in das Bestattungsgeschäft. Vordergründig setzt er sich mit Donnas Lebensentwicklung auseinander. Ihr Vater ist vor vier Jahren gestorben und hat sie mit ihren beiden Geschwistern und ihrer Mutter zurückgelassen. Während Donna Stück für Stück lernt mit diesem Verlust klarzukommen, entdeckt sie, was sie vom Leben möchte, wer sie sein will und am Wichtigsten: wie sie das erreicht. Dieser Weg ist für Donna alles andere als einfach, vor allem wenn es um die Konfrontation mit ihrer Mutter geht, die ebenfalls versucht ihr Leben nach dem Verlust ihres Mannes weiterzuleben. Die Beziehung zwischen Donna und ihrer Mutter ist steinig, aber dabei umso herzergreifender. Von Zankereien und heftigen Streits bis zu Versöhnungen und hilfloser Ignoranz wird jede Gefühlsnote angeschlagen.
Ansonsten bleiben die Nebencharaktere blass. Es sind zwar zahlreiche Figuren präsent und leicht auseinander zu halten, aber in diesem Buch geht es vor allem um Donna, was man der Charakterzeichnung stark anmerkt. Verwirrend fand ich das bei Donnas bester Freundin Liz, die sehr dominant ist und sich zum Beispiel auf Anhieb blendend mit Donnas Mutter versteht. Das wurde am Anfang so stark thematisiert, dass ich schon einen „ich bin eifersüchtig auf dich, weil du dich so gut mit meiner Mutter verstehst“ Handlungsstrang erwartet habe, was aber ausblieb.

Pluspunkte hat Jen Violi für ihren Umgang mit Sex bei mir gesammelt. Natürlich sind Jungen für Donna ein Thema und sie durchlebt die verschiedensten Gefühle: von Sehnsucht bis zu Leidenschaft, ersten Erfahrungen und falschen Entscheidungen. Dabei nimmt die Autorin kein Blatt vor den Mund und beschreibt geschmackvoll, was zwischen zwei hormongesteuerten Halberwachsenen ablaufen kann.

Zwischen den Kapiteln finden sich immer wieder „Akten“ über Verstorbene. Die Idee ist interessant, ich mag Einschübe immer sehr gern, aber sie müssen auch irgendwie mit der Geschichte verkettet sein. Die Verstorbenen tauchen zwar inhaltlich im Roman auf und irgendwann hat sich mir auch erschlossen, dass Donna selbst wohl die Verfasserin dieser Akten ist, aber es wird nie erwähnt, dass sie eine Art Notizbuch über die Toten führt. Es wird während der Handlung nie Bezug darauf genommen, wodurch ich mir die Frage stellen musste: wozu das Ganze?

Kurz und knapp: Jen Violis hat einen leisen, gefühlvollen Debütroman verfasst. Die Geschichte setzt sich auf einfühlsame Weise mit dem Thema Verlust und Familienkonflikt auseinander und schlägt mit dem Thema Bestattungsunternehmen hier und da ein paar ganz neue Töne an.

Thanks to Hyperion Books who allowed me access to the book via NetGalley.
Profile Image for Sara.
128 reviews15 followers
August 9, 2011
The synopsis that I had read for this title make it seem as though this tale is about Donna’s coming of age. But really this book encompasses an entire family’s rebirth. The Parisis lost their father to cancer a few years before the beginning of this novel and the plot opens while the family is still in some sort of stasis. The mother remains loyal to her husband, not dating, not socializing. The younger sister, Linnie, is rebellious in the form of wild hair color choices, and Donna herself is slightly withdrawn and maybe a little morose. Only the eldest brother seems to have cleanly moved on succeeding at college and a healthy relationship.

It was a quiet novel. What starts as Donna being portrayed as a quiet girl is slowly revealed to be a girl changed by her father’s early death. She’s very much in her own head throughout the book. I think that’s why you don’t notice how little interaction with others Donna really has; I felt like at first she could just be super quiet. Her reactions to things are quirky and unexpected. When her new BF Liz is called a ‘spitfire’ Donna asks if this means Liz is like a dragon. Perceptive, yes…normal response, no. Donna’s mother would like nothing more than to see her daughter at the local University of Dayton working towards a degree in communications. Apparently under the misunderstanding that a communications degree will help Donna learn to interact with people better, lol. But it’s this unusual view, the inability to present to the world what they want to hear that allows her to become such a sympathetic mortician.

Yep, Donna’s great goal in life is to become a mortician. Lets just say that a girl withdrawn after her father’s death becoming obsessed with a career in funerals freaks everyone out. Freaks! But seeing how well Donna takes to the job’s unusual skill set, how happy the job makes her, clears away any stray thoughts of the depressing. It also helps that the brothers running the local funeral home are happy, normal, and super supportive. It was cool to see the insight into this career the book gave. It really seems like it could be super rewarding…That is if you can get over putting the makeup on dead people.

Also the afore-mentioned best friend, Liz, really jump starts Donna’s transformation. Liz helps bring Donna back into a relationship with her Aunt Selena who is a witch. Another sub-theme of this book is a discussion of religion. Donna’s family are devout Catholic. Thus, Aunt Selena has been banned from the family because of her Wiccan religion. While Aunt Selena’s views on life may not be Donna’s, a big part of Donna’s coming of age is understanding her own religious viewpoint and how it may differ in some ways from her traditional upbringing.

Like I said, this was a quiet read. I think it remained realistic and could have a great impact on someone if read at the right time in their life. Someone on the brink of change, heading off to college or dealing with the death of a loved one. For myself, while I understood the text, and felt for the characters…it didn’t pack as big of a punch. Though I’ll chalk it up to reading it at the wrong time. Put this one in your back pocket for a rainy afternoon or a suggestion for a teen dealing with a lot of change in their life.

Profile Image for Lisa.
233 reviews
December 30, 2013
Putting Makeup on Dead People has sadly been sitting on my shelf for a couple of years now, untouched and unread. What pulled me in was the bright red lips, the funeral flowers, and obviously that the cover picture is upside down. After two, almost three years, reading this book and finally posting my review is long overdue!

Donna Parisi is finishing up her senior year in high school, graduating and soon starting her new life in at a local college. The same college her brother is graduating from this spring, the same college her friends are attending, and the same college her mom is pushing her to go to. But things aren't that easy, Donna is still dealing with the loss of her father, who passed nearly four years ago, and is living days in a robotic fashion. Going to school, going to church, and focusing on a college, that she isn't sure she wants to go to. Donna's life doesn't seem to have much meaning or much purpose anymore, and days are starting to blend.

Putting Makeup On Dead People, starts in a way not very many books I've read, start; at a funeral. But while everyone around is crying for the loss of their fellow student, Donna is more interested than anything else. She observes the room they're in, the casket sitting in front, and what the girl inside of the casket is wearing. After the funeral Donna comes back to the Brighton Bothers Funeral Home curiously. She knows its weird to be interested in dead people, and its not something her friends or girls of her age are thinking about, but still she can't resist.

Donna is given a flyer and application form for a mortuary school by one of the Brighton Brothers, as well as few lessons if she was interested. Going against all of her mother's wishes, Donna fills out the form, and accepts Mr. Brighton's job offering.

With her new interest, her new job and even her first love, Donna's life seems to have a sense of direction and purpose, that it hasn't had since her father had past years ago. She knows what she wants in life, and she's done doing what everyone else wants or expects her to. It's her life, and Donna is taking charge.

This title, the cover, and the synopsis are so bizarre, that its hard not to want to pick up this book. While I would never be able to work at a funeral home, and handling dead bodies, it was a topic that I've read about before, but really enjoyed. I looked forward to the end of each chapter hoping to find another journal entry, about Donna's encounters with dead people, and their funerals while working for the Brighton Brothers. Some of them were just so hilarious!

You would think that a book about mortuary science would be depressing and sad, but Jen Violi did a good job staying away from that. The book didn't focus so much on the actual process or the people who died, but instead on Donna and the job she wanted to do. I feel that the way Violi wrote the book, was focusing more on the lighter and brighter side of things. So if you're worried that this book is too upsetting, I promise you that its not!

Overall, I really enjoyed Putting Makeup On Dead People and regret not reading it earlier! Many books may sucker you in with their beautiful and intriguing covers, but only a few can back it up with the story inside. Putting Makeup On Dead People is one of those books!
Profile Image for April.
271 reviews72 followers
May 28, 2011
Putting Makeup on Dead People is Donna Parisi’s personal account of her life. We enter Donna’s world as she’s finishing the last few weeks of high school, graduates and figures out life after school. We learn her dad died about five years ago, and she lives with the sadness and the memories, struggling to move on. As crunch time comes at the end of the year, Donna has to choose whether or not to go to Dayton University (where she’s already been accepted) or go a completely different route – mortuary school, an idea that came to her after she attended a classmate’s funeral. She feels that mortuary school is a calling, something that feels right, and yet her mom is adamant that she go to the University. Tensions continue to mount between Donna and her mom as Donna puts her foot down and starts mortuary school and her mom reveals how she’s moving on with her life too.

Putting Makeup on Dead People is a tale of transformation in the truest sense of the word. Nothing changes you more than the death of a loved one, especially in your immediate family. Donna’s voice is refreshing and authentic, she’s smart and funny and sometimes her insights are pretty deep. You follow Donna as she figures out her own life, where she wants to go, who she wants to be, and most of all how she learns to live with her loss. Putting Makeup on Dead People is the rare book that will have you laughing or put a smile on your face even as you’re shedding tears.

I can’t honestly recommend this book enough! I rarely laugh out loud when I read and this book had me laughing throughout. It was also really cathartic to be able to relate to Donna’s feelings so well, and to see them expressed on paper. You can’t help but root for Donna and be completely caught up in her story. Even though the book deals with grieving, it isn’t depressing, it’s infused with hope. One of my favorite things was the funeral profiles that include the details of a funeral and then at the end a funny comment that someone said while trying to be comforting. It’s those little details that make the book completely authentic because everyone has had those moments at funerals. The things people say while they are trying to be helpful or comforting are just funny sometimes!

I recommend this book for YA lovers, readers who enjoy a book written in journal style, and/or people looking for a book that deals with transformation!
Profile Image for Jacinda.
150 reviews88 followers
May 23, 2011
Before I even had an inkling as to what Putting Makeup on Dead People was about, the cover and title drew me in. I assumed because of these two things, it was going to have something to do with death. Of course, Putting Makeup on Dead People involves death in a couple different ways.

I want to give props to Jen Violi for having Donna, our protagonist in Putting Makeup on Dead People, have an interest in mortuary science. It was unique from anything I’ve read before, so I loved reading about it even though it was a bit creepy at times. The weird obituary style death notes(only way I can describe it) throughout the book added something else different and unique to Putting Makeup on Dead People and it also added some humor to the story for me.

Another reason Jen Violi needs props is because Donna is older…18 and heading off to college. Donna has many decisions to decide on at the end of high school and she decides on being a mortician, which goes against what her mother wants. Everyone around her still thinks she’s stuck on her father having passed 4 years prior. Liz ends up turning out to be a new and great best friend for Donna and helps her learn some things about herself along the way.

Jen writes sex with teens in a real way. Many of the thoughts Donna had about sex, I remember having felt myself looking back on it now. I appreciate her adding those situations and thoughts into Putting Makeup on Dead People. A couple of different boys make an appearance here and I think having both shows how much Donna grows and changes during these pages.

One side plot through the story I almost thought was pointless. In a way I can see why it was added and at the same time I feel like it could have been omitted. I almost wanted to just read over the pages that contained what I’m speaking of. I’m not telling you what bothered me, I’m hoping you can decide for yourself if you think it’s needed or not. The book is still a good read whether it’s there or not.

Putting Makeup on Dead People touches on many ways as a society we deal with death. It puts a new spin on dealing with a parent who has passed away.
Profile Image for Heather.
103 reviews27 followers
September 16, 2011
Inspiring and powerful. I wish I had written this book. Not just because it involves scientific fascination with death and corpses, but also because it has such strong themes on spiritual transformation. Violi pegs it. Donna's experience and choices align with what the deepest parts of me understand about the process. There are also the philosophical ties, along with relationship dynamics that apply universally.

My favorite part? That Donna's self-actualization drives her at first to instinctually pull away from her traditional upbringing, but then her sorrow at her emotional breaks with things and those she loves drives her to carefully assess and sort through what she really wants and believes. Relationships with religion and people don't have to be an all or nothing thing. They can also be a careful dance of compromises that leaves room for both the other and the self.

Donna allowing herself to get drunk, and then, while drunk, allowing a boy she doesn't even really care about get to third base...well, that's a scene I think pre-sexual teens might want to discuss with a wise adult if they read this book. Violi paints a girl who doesn't know for herself what to do about such circumstances, and so, having no strong opinions, goes along with the flow. And later she paints that character coming to know what she wants for herself, standing up for herself, and walking away from a bad situation. I hope people inexperienced in partying and sex finish this and realize they have some pre-experience decisions to make, and some pre-experience self worth to build. You can't wait and figure it out when you get there, you need to know ahead of time what you are worth, and what you plan to do to protect that valuable self of yours.
Profile Image for usagi ☆ミ.
1,198 reviews279 followers
April 17, 2011
It's a shame that I just couldn't emotionally click with this book - because I have quite the soapbox mentality concerning death and Western culture.

This is such a promising premise - a girl, in order to deal with death, becoming a mortician - but it was wasted, it felt like, within the first ninety-something pages on high school banter which was more annoying than witty.

While I'll give it to Violi that Donna is a very interesting character with her future career choice, she wasn't consistent enough to feel solid enough as if she were a real person. She felt very, well, fictional.

Though the reason this book gets two stars (instead of only one), is because I do have to praise Violi in terms of her courage of bringing up the topic of death and the grief process within Western culture in the guise of a YA book. We in Western culture have a pretty disgusting attitude toward grief and death, in my opinion, and bringing it up at all (much less in a YA book) is a ballsy move.

But it shouldn't be. It shouldn't have to be. We shove our dead away under the ground. We make them up and pump them full of chemicals because we can't let go of what becomes their physical shells as soon as the decay process takes over after physical expiration. The good thing about this book is that Violi, through Donna, confronts this attitude we've adopted over the last few thousand years and challenges it with becoming an undertaker herself. That's praiseworthy.

I just wish it had been executed better. It's just such a shame when things like this don't work out well when all is said and done.

(crossposted to librarything, shelfari, and witchoftheatregoing.wordpress.com)
Profile Image for Melanie Goodman.
95 reviews15 followers
May 19, 2011
Jen Violi’s Putting Makeup on Dead People immediately comes across as both a bit morbid and witty, and it delivers on that promise all the way through. I loved this book more than I ever would have expected; it’s the kind of book I want to buy just so that I can pass it around to everyone I know.

As a child, Donna lost her father. Her memories of his death and the funeral home are vivid. While Donna struggles with her feelings about death and surviving in the wake of death, she also remembers the kind of comfort that can be provided to the family afterward. Following the death of a classmate, Donna returns to the funeral home, where she discovers that unlike everyone else she is not creeped out by the body, but intrigued by the process of getting someone ready for their final resting place.

Donna decides to attend mortuary school and get an internship at the local funeral home, but her decision is not met with acceptance or praise from her family members. They worry that she is so stuck on death that she’ll never truly live, but for Donna it seems that the life she wants is just getting started.

Putting Makeup on Dead People is a book that celebrates differences and taking a different, non-traditional (and even less socially acceptable) path in life. This is a wonderful book for anyone struggling with planning the future, dealing with family pressures, and finding your way after graduating from high school. I can’t offer enough praise for Violi’s debut; it’s a charming first book that may be off-putting to some but will hopefully find a home in the hands of those who need all it has to offer.
131 reviews8 followers
March 16, 2012
First, what grabbed me was the title and cover art. I mean - putting makeup on dead people??? Can there be any more bizarre thought? So it hooked me and after reading the jacket I thought I'd give it a shot. As a whole, I'd say I enjoyed the book, but if I broke it down into parts, there were perhaps more indifferent moments than exceptional. I'll be honest that much of it is due to the teenage protagonist who is filled with angst and trying to define who she is and what her world will look like. I just don't always have a lot of patience with that, particularly when Donna is being exceptionally dim about what's going on around her (I'll admit its easier for the reader to know what that is than the character). At times the story fell flat but would recovered quickly. The moments that were most shining in this novel were exactly the moments I was looking for after reading the book description - her work at the funeral home. Much of this is due to the fact that this is exactly where and what Donna should be doing. She's good at this part and her character is far less frustrating and childish than at other encounters in her life. Even her relationship with the funeral director and his family is warm and full of joy and all of this happiness and contentment surrounding her work with the dead and the grieving is juxtaposed neatly with her own inability to deal and let go of her own father's death. I'll admit to a few tears shed at the end of the book. Resolution after pain is always something to celebrate.
Profile Image for Sara.
311 reviews12 followers
April 25, 2011
Putting Makeup on Dead People by Jen Violi follows Donna who has found what she wants to do with her life, work in a funeral home as a mortician. After the death of her father Donna has been floating through life. While visiting a funeral home after the death of a classmate Donna has a conversation with one of the owners of the funeral home and decides that working in the mortuary business is her calling. The book follows Donna as she completes her senior year in high school and starts college. Donna grows up and finds herself along the way.

This is a nice contemporary coming of age novel with an interesting premise. I enjoyed reading about Donna's life and the mortuary industry. It's nice reading a book about a teenager who is moving into adulthood and while experiencing bumps along the way, she ultimately knows what they want and work towards it. This isn't a sweet and cute story but rather a coming of age novel about a girl moving through life after the death of her father.

Appropriateness: There is quite a bit of adult content in this book. Donna fumbles through a couple relationships which become sexual (although there are no erotic descriptions), there is drinking and drunkenness. Donna is an older teen and behaves like one. I would recommend this book to older teenagers 15+

Profile Image for Newport Librarians.
645 reviews19 followers
April 29, 2013
An excellent YA novel! Donna is a senior in high school, not really an outcast but quiet and keeps mostly to herself and her few acquaintances (they can't really be classified as close friends). She eats lunch with the same people every day, but never goes out or participates in much since her father died 4 years earlier. She meets Liz, a new girl at school, and starts to question what it is she really wants to do and why she is here. During a funeral for a fellow classmate, she meets JB, the makeup artist at the funeral home and starts to become inquisitive about the "business". Who wouldn't want to go to Mortuary School?

This novel really hit home for me - I too, at one point (and kind of still) would love a career in Mortuary Science. No one really thought I was weird, but I remember going through many of the same thoughts and emotions Donna does (note: I have not lost either parent).

Classy and well written, the story sort of grabs you and you want to see how Donna makes out - with her career, her friends, her family, etc. This is a great story for so many different people.
Profile Image for Gloria Harrison.
2 reviews4 followers
May 3, 2011
Putting Makeup on Dead People is not a complicated book, insomuch as the language isn't overwrought, the characters aren't inaccessibly heavy, and the plotting and pacing aren't stylistically challenging. However, the book delicately and playfully plunges the very complicated depths of death, family, faith, and growing up. Donna Parisi, the book's main character, is a girl many young woman can relate to, even those who haven't lost a parent or who haven't decided to rebel by attending mortuary college. On the brink of her high school graduation, Donna struggles with questions many of us faced, or will face, about the future and what kind of person we want to ultimately become - especially in the face of what our loved ones hope for us. Written with heart and great humor (there are so many hilarious moments in this book), Putting Makeup on Dead People takes the reader on a slow walk through the twilight days of high school, and into the dawn of adulthood. It's an absolute pleasure to read - for people of all ages.
Profile Image for Czarina.
177 reviews33 followers
August 26, 2014
This is an awesome book. Just look at the cover art & title, isn't it gorgeous?

First of all, I have never read a book with a character who wanted to be a mortician or any other bizarre job. How cool is that? I have never even thought what it would be like being a mortician, but now I'm curious. Also, I like Donna. She is straightforward and at the same time she adds humor to the book, which has a sad theme, death. Ooh, and Liz, she reminds me of Stargirl from the book by Jerry Spinelli.

Though the book didn't have much of a plot, it's still really nice to just read about the behind the scenes in a funeral and just plain old dead people. I really like the writing and Jen Violi is definitely an author I would look out for.
Profile Image for VJ.
317 reviews25 followers
October 25, 2016
I identified strongly with Donna and her desire to become a mortician as I grew up wanting to be a pathologist! There the similarities ended, but that fact and the title were the draw for this book.

There is family trauma being worked through, change following the death of Donna's dad, and adulthood to be achieved as the 18th birthday is approached. What an odd thing it seems to consider our young people adult at this age. Perhaps it is more important when they consider themselves adult and take steps toward independence. Reading YA when Y is farther behind one than A can be provocative.

I enjoyed this book enough to hold onto it for a bit, mebbe a quick reread. The story, the characters, the growing up situations linger.
January 6, 2014
3.5. Not the type of book I would usually go for, but I actually quite liked it. An emotional, quirky coming of age story with a definite twist. And anything with cool independent mortician chicks is good with me! This book hit the mark on relationships with parents and teenagers, which made me tear up a bit at one point. I think this could be a good read for someone who has experienced a loss in their lives. All in all a quick, but touching read!
Profile Image for Librariann.
1,460 reviews48 followers
April 4, 2011
I wanted this to be an awesome book about teen morticians, but at 55 pages in it has not lived up to its premise. Just start working in the funeral home, depressed girl!
Profile Image for Laura.
397 reviews39 followers
November 3, 2017
I actually attempted reading this book a few years ago but didn't get far with it- the book and I didn't quite click for some reason. I put it back on my radar because of the funeral home lit mini series I'm doing and this novel is considered a staple of that micro-genre.

Unfortunately, I'm afraid my original attitude towards Putting Makeup on Dead People was correct. This book and I just don't click. The thing is, I don't know if it's me or not. There's a certain something about the book that makes me turned off by it, a lack of subtlety or a certain... unrealisticness and this teenage wish-fulfillment quality that made me think Violi wished she had a best friend like Liz or a pair of handsome crunchy granola bars after her when she was a teenager. Donna felt like a book character, and did things that can only happen in the book world, like apply to mortuary science in the spring of her senior year and get in for the fall semester. Donna also wasn't a particularly proactive main character and it made it hard for me to like her as a main character. Liz just goes up to her and decided they were going to be best friends, Charlie just happened to have a crush on her, Tim just happened to like her, etc. Hell, even JB just happened to go up to her and talk about being a mortician. And that's all she apparently needed to want to become a mortician! She just decided to become one, without talking to anyone or even really thinking through the idea and taking the time to decide whether or not that's really want she wanted to do with her life. Hell, she didn't even talk to her family about it, the people who are presumably paying for this school.

There was a certain shallowness that overwhelmed the novel. None of the central conflicts or relationships felt anything but skin deep. Like her getting mad at her mother for dating again after her father's been dead for four years (her mother had quite the heel-face turn already, I mean she just decided to go to yoga one day and changed basically overnight). That should be a big, emotional moment, and while she does stop talking to her mom for some time, I can't feel any of the emotion behind it. Same with Donna's relationships with Tim and Charlie or Liz or basically anyone.

Continue reading this review on my blog here: https://bookwormbasics.blogspot.com/2...
Profile Image for Aurora Glows.
11 reviews
December 31, 2022
Profile Image for Judi.
339 reviews1 follower
July 6, 2018
The idea of the story was a great one. I bought it without reading the back and hoped it was about a mortician; which it is in a way. It has been about 3 years since Donna's dad died when the book starts. She lives with her mother, a brother and a sister. There isnt much talk about her family relationships until about the middle of the book when her mom starts dating. Donna hates the idea, which makes sense. Her mom is hurt about it and her brother is mad for hurting mom. She has a "boyfriend", who really isnt her boyfriend. At least not what I would consider a boyfriend. She is slated to attend a specific college, but changes her mind and decides she wants to be a mortician. And just like that she has an apprenticeship with a local morgue, that has room and board and she's been accepted into mortuary college. There isnt a whole lot of character building and it becomes, for me, what I call a fluff book. There's no real depth, they can be read quick and easy and I don't get emotionally caught up in the book. They're great for reading when you're trying to make your eyelids heavy when it's bedtime and you cant sleep. The one thing I enjoyed about the book is that Donna writes down a description of each person who dies and comes to their mortuary. I also want to add that this book read like it was for young adults. Don't get me wrong I enjoy YA books from time to time, but this isnt one of them.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
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