Book Review: The Wisdom of Hair

October 18, 2013 4.5 stars, book review, coming of age, Kim Boykin, southern lit 5

Written By: Kim Boykin

Published By: Berkley Trade Paperback an imprint of Penguin March 5, 2013

Length: 304 pages

Source: Publisher


Life can be beautiful, but it takes a little work…
“The problem with cutting your own hair is that once you start, you just keep cutting, trying to fix it, and the truth is, some things can never be fixed. The day of my daddy’s funeral, I cut my bangs until they were the length of those little paintbrushes that come with dime-store watercolor sets. I was nine years old. People asked me why I did it, but I was too young then to know I was changing my hair because I wanted to change my life.”

In 1983, on her nineteenth birthday, Zora Adams finally says goodbye to her alcoholic mother and their tiny town in the mountains of South Carolina. Living with a woman who dresses like Judy Garland and brings home a different man each night is not a pretty existence, and Zora is ready for life to be beautiful.

With the help of a beloved teacher, she moves to a coastal town and enrolls in the Davenport School of Beauty. Under the tutelage of Mrs. Cathcart, she learns the art of fixing hair, and becomes fast friends with the lively Sara Jane Farquhar, a natural hair stylist. She also falls hard for handsome young widower Winston Sawyer, who is drowning his grief in bourbon. She couldn’t save Mama, but maybe she can save him.

As Zora practices finger waves, updos, and spit curls, she also comes to learn that few things are permanent in this life—except real love, lasting friendship, and, ultimately… forgiveness.

My Thoughts: 

In The Wisdom of Hair debut author Kim Boykin tells a coming of age story of an innocent young woman trying to escape the cycle of alcoholism and poverty. The story unfolds in first person, in Zora’s voice.  There is first of all hope as I began to read Zora’s story.  I wanted to cheer for her as she left her home and her mama.  There should be a small angel like Miss Cunningham, her high school teacher, in everyone’s life.  She helped get her a scholarship and a place to live in Davenport.  Her one job was to prepare dinner for the widower Winston Sawyer.

I knew immediately that Zora had feeling for Winston, she gazed through his windows at him wistfully, for he was a beautiful man.  That long smoldering desire was bound to lead somewhere….and I wondered where.

Zora’s friendship with Sara Jane was so fun to read and watch it blossom.  They were as different as could be, but they were both excited to be independent and have a little fun.  Sara Jane needed Zora’s help on the book smarts part of beauty school, but she was better than anyone else at doing hair in their class.  Each of the characters in this book are believable and developed.  We learn many secrets behind the motivation to attend beauty school.  There are many changing views on both morals and racism in the book.  Zora has been sheltered but she seems to accept everyone as they are.  She witnesses others opinions change and open up. 

I grew up with a mama that lived for her weekly visit with her beautician, it was part of her routine and her life.  She had her hair cut, colored, styled and sprayed with enough Aqua Net to keep it fairly stiff for 6 more days! It was a culture, a place where ladies went, they talked to their “girl” and enjoyed this primping time.  I had this same feeling while reading The Wisdom of Hair , Mrs Cathcart instilled in these girls a sense of creating a bond with a customer.

I enjoyed every page of this book, and look forward to more books from Kim Boykin.  4.5 stars for this book…highly recommend.  I had the pleasure of meeting Kim Boykin at the Decatur Book Festival, she was as warm and engaging as I’d imagined, and she gave me a big ol’ hug!!

5 Responses to “Book Review: The Wisdom of Hair”

  1. Sandy Nawrot

    Sounds a little predictable maybe, but with some good messages. I swear that hair stylists also need a degree in psychiatry, at least the good ones. I know mine knows me better than most other people!

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