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Book Review: Patti Smith’s “Just Kids”

This book came to me at a very special time in my life, and I will never forget the impact it had on me. When I was 15, I stumbled upon a small bookstore in Asheville. I told the owner about the books I had previously been interested in, (“The Outsiders” and “Palo Alto”) looking for a good reading recommendation and he put “Just Kids” in my hands. Little did I know this book would get me through some of the hardest times of my teen years, provide endless inspiration, and make me fall in love with 70s rock.

“Just Kids” is a memoir written by one of the most notable female rockstars of all time, Patti Smith. It is an exquisite testimony to her talent as a poet, songwriter, and artist. The main focus of the memoir is her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, the renowned photographer known for his risque black & whites that explored sexuality in never foreseen ways. As another goodie, photographs from their time together are sprinkled throughout the book that give a lovely glimpse into their life.

Having to give up her baby after an unplanned pregnancy at 18, Smith moves to New York looking to immerse herself in the arts and get a new start. There she meets Mapplethorpe, a bohemian wanderer in search of the same thing. They enter a life together, exploring what it means to be young, poor, and in love. The novel continually references the icons she meets along the way, including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and the members of Blue Öyster Cult.

It is a poetic novel that tells of the joy and pain of being a starving artist, growing apart, and exploring one’s true identity. Mapplethorpe’s struggle with accepting his sexuality and Patti’s desire to see the world drives them apart and brings them back together over the course of decades. Though their relationship ebbs and flows, their connection is one that transcends distance.

I’m usually not an autobiography kind of person, but I HIGHLY recommend reading “Just Kids.” It is truly one of the best books I’ve ever read, and I promise you won’t regret it.

– DJ Butter