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Nine Years Under: Coming of Age in an Inner-City Funeral Home
     

Nine Years Under: Coming of Age in an Inner-City Funeral Home

4.6 8
by Sheri Booker
 

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Six Feet Under meets The Wire in a dazzling and darkly comic memoir about coming-of-age in a black funeral home in Baltimore

Sheri Booker was only fifteen years old when she started working at Wylie Funeral Home in West Baltimore. She had no idea that her summer job would become nine years of immersion in a hidden world. Reeling from

Overview

Six Feet Under meets The Wire in a dazzling and darkly comic memoir about coming-of-age in a black funeral home in Baltimore

Sheri Booker was only fifteen years old when she started working at Wylie Funeral Home in West Baltimore. She had no idea that her summer job would become nine years of immersion in a hidden world. Reeling from the death of her beloved great aunt, she found comfort in the funeral home, and soon has the run of the place, from its sacred chapels to the terrifying embalming room.

With AIDS and gang violence threatening to wipe out a generation of black men, Wylie was never short on business. As families came together to bury one of their own, Booker was privy to their most intimate moments of grief and despair. But along with the sadness, Booker encountered moments of dark humor: brawls between mistresses and widows, and car crashes at McDonald’s with dead bodies in tow. While she never got over her terror of the embalming room, Booker learned to expect the unexpected and to never, ever cry.

This vibrant tour of a macabre world reveals an urban funeral culture where photo-screened memorial T-shirts often replace suits and ties and the dead are sent off with a joint or a fifth of cognac. Nine Years Under offers readers an unbelievable glimpse into an industry in the backdrop of all our lives.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Abigail Meisel
Booker's descriptions of her experiences of loss, dating and coming of age are interesting, but it's her revelations about the daily workings of a funeral home in a poor, urban setting that are transfixing.
Publishers Weekly
First-time author Booker guides readers through the inner workings of a funeral home in an African American neighborhood in Baltimore—the Albert P. Wylie Funeral Home, where she was employed for nine years, beginning when she was only 15. Initially accepting the job as a teenager, Booker first establishes for herself a professional dress code and phone manner, then gradually learns important details of the funeral business like why her employer only used black ink pens, and finally overcoming her fear of “the basement,” where she assists her boss in the embalming room. Details specific to African-American funerary preparations, including styling black women’s hair, give the reader an intimate understanding of the importance of funeral homes in the African-American community. Adding another layer to the narrative is Booker’s own struggle coming to terms with the cancer diagnoses of both her mother and her Aunt Mary. Booker’s coming-of-age story set against the business of death is filled with both tragedy and humor, and is wholly compelling in its humanity. Agent: Betsey Lerner, Dunow, Carson & Lerner. (June)
Kirkus Reviews
A young woman makes a life out of working with death. Working for an undertaker doesn't seem like it would be a popular choice for a summer job, but 15-year-old Booker (I Am the Poem, 2011, etc.) a writer, poet and photographer, figured if she were going to learn how to cope with the recent death of her beloved aunt, a funeral home might be the best place to do it. So began Booker's nine-year employment in the office of Wylie Funeral Home in West Baltimore. During her time there, Booker greeted hundreds of grieving inner-city families at the door and witnessed the strange and familiar faces of death. Some of them were her peers, gunned down in the tragic street violence plaguing that part of the country. Others were AIDS patients, suicide victims or elders in the church; the only discernible pattern that surfaced in the Wylie clientele was a desire for closure. Booker writes that she felt as though she "had already died a hundred deaths" by the time she was done working at the funeral home. By including plenty of less-heavy details about family life at the home and insights into an industry that most outsiders never consider until they have to, Booker's memoir remains mostly lighthearted and true to a teenage girl's perspective. With death as a backdrop, she fell in love with the funeral director's son, crashed the hearse and struggled with the illness of her mother. Despite the rich material, however, the writing reaches neither a moving depth nor comic height and feels at times as stiff and cold as the bodies in the embalming room. An informative but occasionally too-dry behind-the-scenes look into the funeral industry and its reflection on contemporary society in inner-city Baltimore.
From the Publisher
“Alternately creepy and captivating, drawing readers in with the same you-can't-not-look quality of a highway crash…. There will be some stiffs who just can't get past Booker's subject. Readers who do will find that her story is only partly about dead people. It's the living ones that make the book.”-- Associated Press

“A darkly comic memoir of life and death in urban America.” – Booklist Starred Review

Nine Years Under is a sparkling debut— brimming with love and bursting with life. Booker's Baltimore is equal parts The Wire and The Cosby show.  She doesn't shrink from the realities of life in inner city funeral home, but she is also a loving witness, documenting the big hearted community that takes care of its own. Told with compassion, wit, and good old fashioned story telling, Sheri Booker gives us unforgettable characters who will make you laugh right up until they break your heart.”
--Tayari Jones, author of Silver Sparrow

“You’ve never read a book like Nine Years Under. I fell in love with Sheri, a plucky and nervy teenager who took a risk that changed her life. Through love, laughter, and tears, Sheri takes you to a world many of us will never experience.  And she does it with lively writing, awesome characters and a sharp sense of humor. Who knew the world of death was filled with so much life?”
--Aliya S King, author of Diamond Life

“In Nine Years Under, Sheri Booker has accomplished quite a feat. She somehow was able to bring a tremendous amount of light and life to a story about the strange and often dark business of death. For that, I applaud her.”
--Jason Reynolds, coauthor of My Name Is Jason: Mine Too

“In Nine Years Under, Booker poetically infiltrates the private world of black funeral home culture. The book serves as a magic intersection of this mysterious mortuary milieu, the black church and middle class black Baltimore to spin a story that Booker is uniquely positioned to set to prose. You will laugh and cry; be horrified and hopeful. But at the end of a dark ride through valleys of suppressed emotion, every reader will realize that at the end of the darkest and most violent of rainless thunder storms, our own tears can set up rainbows of promise.” – Jeff Johnson, author of Everything I’m Not Made Me Everything I Am

“Sensational.”
Essence
 
“Her revelations about the daily workings of a funeral home in a poor urban setting are transfixing.”
The New York Times Book Review
 
“A darkly comic memoir of life and death in urban America.”
Booklist Starred Review
 
“Booker’s coming-of-age story set against the business of death is filled with both tragedy and humor, and is wholly compelling in its humanity.”
Publishers Weekly
 
“Great literature and a powerful sense of humanity.”
Baltimore City Paper
 
Booker’s “insider's story manages to uplift and turn a glimpse of the dark side into a bright reveal of humanity.”
Creative Loafing

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781592407125
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
05/30/2013
Pages:
272
Sales rank:
820,821
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Sensational.”
Essence
 
“Her revelations about the daily workings of a funeral home in a poor urban setting are transfixing.”
The New York Times Book Review
 
“A darkly comic memoir of life and death in urban America.”
Booklist Starred Review
 
“Booker’s coming-of-age story set against the business of death is filled with both tragedy and humor, and is wholly compelling in its humanity.”
Publishers Weekly
 
“Great literature and a powerful sense of humanity.”
Baltimore City Paper
 
Booker’s “insider's story manages to uplift and turn a glimpse of the dark side into a bright reveal of humanity.”
Creative Loafing

Meet the Author

Sheri Booker has a BA in political science from the College of Notre Dame of Maryland and an MFA in creative nonfiction from Goucher College. A writer, poet, spoken word artist, photographer, and teacher, she currently lives in Baltimore.

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Nine Years Under: Coming of Age in an Inner City Funeral Home 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have to say I was part of the creation of this missive and Sheri shoots straight from her soul about her life at Wylie. It was difficult for her to reveal as much as she did about her personal life but I believe that the lessons learned in this book about life, death and how to be yourself are invaluable for any reader.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is simply amazing. Thank you Sheri for sharing your life with the world.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this book! It was a page turner that kept me wanting more but I did not want it to end!! I read it too dern fast :) I am looking forward to the author's next body of work.
missbeverlyann More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed the book. It actually gives you a glimpse of how a funeral really works. Normally we never get that far back in there. Written in a nice easy style that keeps you engaged thru out the whole book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Nine Years Under was a great read from beginning to end! It made me laugh, cry and nervous when reading certain parts. Sheri really bared it all. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is amazing. Can't wait for the next one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago