Thursday, May 23, 2013

Lack of Wisdom in "The Wisdom of Hair"

The Wisdom of Hair by Kim Boykin

I had such high hopes for this. I thought it would be a mix between "Steel Magnolias" and "Barber Shop." Sadly, it didn't deliver in those areas, but did have some redeeming qualities.

It is 1983 and Zora May Adams is nineteen years old and lives in the mountains of South Carolina with her mother, who thinks she is Judy Garland, and is constantly coming home drunk with random men. One night, Zora decides she has just had enough. Her mother comes home drunk, again, and with Zora’s boyfriend. It is just too much to take, and she calls her teacher, who has encouraged her to apply for a beauty school spot in a town about an hour and a half from home. The teacher arranges for Zora to stay in the above-garage apartment of a young widower, Winston Sawyer, in exchange for making his meals daily. There are a few issues with this arrangement, the least of which is Zora is immediately infatuated with the man. 

Zora excels in school, and makes fast friends with Sara Jane Farquhar, one of the best stylists in the school. Sara Jane’s family also embraces Zora, to the point that her mother asks Zora to call her Mama. The two girls grow up over the course of the book. Sara Jane becomes engaged and the whirlwind of wedding planning takes over the girls’ lives. In the meanwhile, Zora still holds a torch for the seemingly oblivious Winston, who spends his nights drinking himself to sleep, only to start over again the next day. Despite this obvious fault, Zora cannot help her obsession, even though Sara Jane tries to discourage it. Eventually, Zora gets what she wants when she and Winston begin a relationship, but it is nothing like she imagined and Zora remains unhappy. (No, I'm not spoiling-that's written on the book)

The main theme of this book seems to be self-realization. Zora has to get away from her mother in order to find herself. She makes her own family once away from home, and has to make mistakes in order to redeem herself. Sara Jane also learns to stand up for what matters to her.

I had a few issues with this book. I thought it was going to have a lot more to do with the hair salons by the title, for one. Another was the fact that some of the characters’ actions just didn’t feel right to me, and little was explained to fix that. I also felt that there was little depth to some of the secondary characters and that some actions felt very sudden for such shallow relationships. I was assuming that the relationship between Zora and Winston was supposed to feel rushed and romantic, but to me it seemed unfounded. There was also a little too much emphasis on the "man needed for happiness" theme for a modern woman like myself.

All of that being said, it was a decent book that had a lot going on, and a relatively quick read. I liked the 80s setting, and the critiques of the older women stuck in the 50s or 60s. Those felt real and added humor to the story.

Some books that are similar to this in themes and subject matter are:
Summer Sisters by Judy Blume
True to Form by Elizabeth Berg
The Wonder Spot by Melissa Bank


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