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Sashay, Shante!

Posh reviews Kelle James' memoir, Smile for the Camera, about her youth as an aspiring model in New York during the late '70s.

Sashay, Shante!

BOOK REPORT for Smile for the Camera by Kelle James

Cover Story: Show Off
BFF Charm: Maybe
Swoonworthy Scale: 0
Talky Talk: Simply Bare
Bonus Factors: NYC, Next Top Model, True Crime
Relationship Status: You Make Me Smize

Cover Story: Show Off

Flash this baby around in public all you want, cos that cover is GORGEOUS. And you can't tell from an online picture, but the glass is all shiny and super realistic looking. Definitely one of my fave covers from 2010.

The Deal:

To escape her horribly abusive father, sixteen-year-old farm girl Kelle James moves to New York City with one goal in mind: become a successful model. That sentence alone should tell you that Hallmark won't be making this into a TV special any time soon. Completely naive and overwhelmed, Kelle moves into the Barbizon Hotel for women and meets Rayna, another aspiring model who quickly becomes her bestie. Together, they find a savior in Buddy Jacobson, a racehorse trainer and modeling agency owner who, in offering to help them, unwittingly embroils them in a murder investigation. And, because this is late 70s New York, that's the least of Kelle's problems. Batted around like a pinball by soulless agencies and controlling men, Kelle must find the strength, not only to survive, but to flourish.

And GET THIS, y'all: this story is a MEMOIR. Which means all of this cray cray shizz actually happened. WHOAH.

BFF Charm: Maybe

I mean this in the nicest way possible: Kelle is a total headcase. And hey, she has every reason to be! Her father is a terrifying, deeply evil man, and he effed her up real good. As a victim of abuse, Kelle continues to seek approval from older men, which only leads her into the arms of rapists, pervs and all-star assholes. She DEFINITELY needs a friend to support her and teach her how to respect herself, and thankfully, that friend is not me.

I admit, part of that might stem from jealousy, cos the girl is so drop dead gorgeous, random dudes come up to her on the street and ask to take her to Club 54 (true facts). But I could get used to being the duff if Kelle decided to show some backbone. Instead, she lets people continuously take advantage of her and, when things go bad, she just starts chugging the self-haterade. As I already pointed out, Kelle is showing all of the typical signs of being abused, and I get that, but it doesn't mean I'd want to hang out with her at photo shoots or watch her pig out on food but still stay amazingly thin.

LOOK I'M SORRY I'M A BAD PERSON OK? And I said "maybe" because, by the end of the book, I felt really proud of Kelle. Moreover, I'm super duper impressed that her adult self shared this story so that teenagers (and not just ridiculously good looking ones) might find hope and inspiration in her struggles.

Swoonworthy Scale: 0

I thought about giving a negative score because pretty much every guy in this book is a TOTAL DICK. I don't mean to indicate that homosexuality is a choice, because it's not, but if I were Kelle, I would have switched teams after, oh, the third guy tried to rape me.

Talky Talk: Simply Bare

If this book was a magazine cover, there'd be no hint of photoshopping. With brutal honesty, James lays it all out on the table, blemishes and all. Her style of writing is extremely simple and stark, and though it fits the memoir framework, it was the main thing I didn't enjoy about the book. There was something too childlike about Kelle's voice, lending even her most horrifying experiences an air of make-believe. I'm certainly not implying that anything in this book is untrue, but the narration made me feel like I was reading a cautionary tale rather than a real life experience. I wanted more grit, more intensity, but all I got were characters that seemed, through the eyes of Kelle, like caricatures in an after school special.

Bonus Factor: NYC

The Big Apple is one of my fave settings for books, but James take it up a notch with the late 1970s (cos, duh, that's when she moved there). As a reader (and not an actual resident), I found it thrilling to experience pre-Giuliani New York City in all of its seedy glory while also still enjoying the typical crown jewels like Central Park.

Bonus Factor: Next Top Model

Impossibly beautiful girls gettin' catty in a cutthroat competition to make it to the top? WHAT'S NOT TO LOVE? Sure, this book doesn't have Tyra, but it does have interesting insight into the awfulness (and occasional rewards) of modeling.

Bonus Factor: True Crime

Even though that picture isn't really about true crime, it IS a poster from a movie with Alicia Silverstone and Matt Kevin Dillon that I never knew existed, so I had to use it. ANYHOODLE, since this book is a memoir, the murder that occurs is a totes true story! I totally Googled the shizz out of it, cos Buddy Jacobson is a fascinating character (I kinda wish the book had just been about him, actually).

Casting Call:

I tried to find a model who grew up on a farm, and the internet led me to Jessica Stam:

Jessica Stam as Kelle

I can picture her riding horses AND rocking the runway. Yeah, she'll do.

Relationship Status: You Make Me Smize

This book is a lot to handle, and sometimes we rub each other the wrong way. We'll never be true friends, but whenever I see it at a bar, I always pull up a chair to hear some of its wild stories from back in the day. Sure, it doesn't make me laugh or cry, but when I think about all of the obstacles it has overcome, I can't help but smize.

Psst! I have a copy of this book to give away! Leave a comment (and when you fill out the comment form, make sure you enter an email in the email field) and I'll pick the lucky winner at random.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my review copy from Simon & Schuster. I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). Smile for the Camera is now available.

Posh Deluxe's photo About the Author: Sarah lives in Austin, TX, where she programs films at the Alamo Drafthouse. Sarah enjoys fancy cocktails, dance parties and anything that sparkles (except vampires).