Smile for the Camera

Smile for the Camera

4.1 14
by Kelle James
     
 

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Kelle James left an abusive home at the age of sixteen and went to the best place she could imagine: New York City. She had big plans of becoming a model, but within a week she was homeless and broke. What follows is her exceptional story of trying to make it on her own with nothing to her name and no one to trust. She encounters a string of people who take

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Overview

Kelle James left an abusive home at the age of sixteen and went to the best place she could imagine: New York City. She had big plans of becoming a model, but within a week she was homeless and broke. What follows is her exceptional story of trying to make it on her own with nothing to her name and no one to trust. She encounters a string of people who take advantage of her youth and beauty, endures many disappointments and rejections, and has a surprising connection to an infamous murder trial. This sparse narrative of a girl who loses herself before finding her way is not only utterly compelling—it’s entirely true.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Kelle has an abusive father, but she also has an escape: she's beautiful, and at age 16 she moves from Maryland to New York City to become a model. Yet 1970s Manhattan is anything but glamorous, and debut author James's memoir is less about life as an aspiring model than it is about the many ways that men try to take advantage of pretty teenage girls. James's New York is a seedy place filled with roach-infested apartments, nights at Studio 54, drugs, girls being duped into sex, and the struggle to survive on very little money ("Don't never walk on Forty-second Street neither," a bagel shop employee tells her soon after she arrives in town. "They'll make a meal out of ya there"). Her present-tense prose, while technically adept, can feel precious and overwritten, and Kelle's naïveté forced (sure, New York accents are thick, but it's tough to believe she wouldn't pick up what "loitah" and "trooncy" mean). Still, with painful accounts of rape, abuse, and her connection to a 1978 murder, it's very easy to forget that this isn't fiction. Ages 14�up. (Nov.)
From the Publisher
This completely absorbing memoir follows the author from age 16, when she escaped from an abusive home in the late 1970s to become a model in New York City. Although Kelle ultimately succeeds, her path from squalor to security takes her through more abusive relationships, homelessness and a sensational murder trial. Kelle is one scrappy girl, though. With a few good friends and the timely kindness of strangers, she survives. This is a cautionary story to those who dream of similar runs to fame. James pulls no punches in her descriptions of the sexual and physical abuse she suffered at the hands of predatory men in the city and in flashback memories of her violent father. She describes a sexual attack and doesn’t shy away from innuendo in her characters’ dialogue. Stark in its honesty, the book propels readers forward with a sense of suspense worthy of a thriller. James bares her former adolescent soul and proudly celebrates her toughness, while owning up to her mistakes as well. Compelling and fascinating—a striking debut. - KIRKUS, October 1, 2010, *STAR

Smile for the Camera
Kelle James, Simon & Schuster, $16.99 (416p) ISBN 978-1-4424-0623-0
Kelle has an abusive father, but she also has an escape: she's beautiful, and at age 16 she moves from Maryland to New York City to become a model. Yet 1970s Manhattan is anything but glamorous, and debut author James's memoir is less about life as an aspiring model than it is about the many ways that men try to take advantage of pretty teenage girls. James's New York is a seedy place filled with roach-infested apartments, nights at Studio 54, drugs, girls being duped into sex, and the struggle to survive on very little money ("Don't never walk on Forty-second Street neither," a bagel shop employee tells her soon after she arrives in town. "They'll make a meal out of ya there"). Her present-tense prose, while technically adept, can feel precious and overwritten, and Kelle's naïveté forced (sure, New York accents are thick, but it's tough to believe she wouldn't pick up what "loitah" and "trooncy" mean). Still, with painful accounts of rape, abuse, and her connection to a 1978 murder, it's very easy to forget that this isn't fiction. Ages 14–up. (Nov.)
Publishers Weekly, November 1, 2010

Children's Literature - Janis Flint-Ferguson
Sixteen-year-old Kelle James is escapes the brutality of her home life to pursue her dream of becoming a model in New York City. The modeling agency that hires her becomes a stand-in for her dysfunctional family.Homeless at first, Kelle and her friend Rayna, are eventually able to support themselves, auditioning for jobs, working in restaurants, and living in closets and lounges. Interspersed into the narrative are flashbacks of life with a vicious father who terrorizes his family. Working through that horror, Kelle enters into a living arrangement with a lecherous older. Gradually she is able to stand up for herself and even attempts to help Buddy, a modeling agency owner accused of murder. Nothing is held back in this memoir, making this an unrelenting narrative of life on the mean streets of New York and in the underbelly of the fashion industry. James' memoir will haunt readers with its graphic images and the stunning resilience of Kelle. Only for very mature adolescents, the language and situations are a merciless rendering of a young girl's fight to provide for herself. Reviewer: Janis Flint-Ferguson
VOYA - Ellen Frank
James had a nightmare of a father and an early childhood filled with such dread it causes her flashbacks for the rest of her life. She keeps moving, because in her own words, "doing things is what changes things." She runs away from home at sixteen and moves to New York City to follow her passion and become a model. Through a glass lens that never gets fogged up, no matter what happens to her or who she encounters, she refuses to stop hoping and following her dream. The book is painful to read—the experiences are very raw and graphic. It is not a happy story, filled with all the anxiety and tension that a person must face when escaping an abusive home, but the abuse that James suffered is still within her heart. James's writing is like poetry. The chapters are short and powerful, reminiscent of Sold by Patricia McCormick (Hyperion Books, 2006). Each chapter is another hook and weaves its way into a compelling memoir that does not let you put it down. Abusive childhoods and abuse of women often follow one another. This book is another stark reminder of the brutality young women face when they leave one desperate situation and find themselves trapped in another. Fortunately, James has the personality to persevere and not succumb to the world of drugs and prostitution she finds around her. Reviewer: Ellen Frank
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—In 1978, James left her Maryland farm and abusive father to become a model in New York City. She lived at the Barbizon Hotel for Women for a few days and then was basically homeless. She and her scrappy, similarly aspiring friends squat in various unpleasant and unsafe places. She was hit on by all manner of disgusting men. James's writing is understated, even simplistic. She tells the story of her younger self as if she weren't very bright. The narrative flashes back to her childhood abuse so awkwardly there should be flashback theme music and a dissolving screen. James's depiction of the underbelly and excesses of pre-Guiliani New York is fascinating—she even saw children in cages at Studio 54. Unfortunately, that's the highpoint of the whole story. The action never engages. Life moved along slowly. Sure, things got worse then marginally better for the struggling model. And sure she had an abusive father. Both seem strangely diffuse, though—as if James holds the pain at arm's length. Lead interested girls to Jeannette Walls's excruciating and beautiful Glass Castle (Scribner, 2005) instead.—Johanna Lewis, New York Public Library
Kirkus Reviews

This completely absorbing memoir follows the author from age 16, when she escaped from an abusive home in the late 1970s to become a model in New York City. Although Kelle ultimately succeeds, her path from squalor to security takes her through more abusive relationships, homelessness and a sensational murder trial. Kelle is one scrappy girl, though. With a few good friends and the timely kindness of strangers, she survives. This is a cautionary story to those who dream of similar runs to fame. James pulls no punches in her descriptions of the sexual and physical abuse she suffered at the hands of predatory men in the city and in flashback memories of her violent father. She describes a sexual attack and doesn't shy away from innuendo in her characters' dialogue. Stark in its honesty, the book propels readers forward with a sense of suspense worthy of a thriller. James bares her former adolescent soul and proudly celebrates her toughness, while owning up to her mistakes as well. Compelling and fascinating—a striking debut. (Memoir. 14 & up)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781442406247
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date:
11/01/2011
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
400
Sales rank:
1,333,467
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

He’s in my room. I know because I can smell his cigarette breath. I pull my leg under the covers and pretend that I’m asleep. Whenever I do that, I always make sure I move around a little. My brother Bob taught me that. He says sleeping people roll around, fakers don’t. I always listen to Bob. He’s my big brother.

I hear the whir and click of my fan as it moves from side to side on my nightstand. Every time it passes by, it pushes my father’s air at me. I can feel him on my skin. I’m glad my windows are open.

I open my eyes just a tiny bit. I peek out. I see him. He’s standing really close to my bed. A streetlamp shines behind him, through my window. The light flares around his dark form like a halo. He’s got his gun in his hand.

I can’t stand that gun.

I realize that I haven’t moved in a while, so I make a little moaning noise and drop my arm over the edge of the mattress. My brother will be impressed when I tell him what I’ve done.

While I lie there and wait till it’s time to move again, I try to imagine I’m surrounded by a powerful force field. If I do it right, it will keep bad things from getting to me. It’s hard for me to do, though. I’m not as good at it as Bob is. Anytime I tell him that, he says, “Keep working on it.”

Lately I’ve had lots of chances to practice.

I’m pretty sure I’ve waited long enough. I think it’s safe to move again. I stretch my arm down over the side of my bed and tuck my hand between the mattress and the box spring. I curl my fingers around the short metal rod I hid there. I found it with my brothers’ car stuff. It was the perfect size, so I cleaned it up and put it there, just in case.

Maybe I’m moving too much. I decide that I can’t move again for at least five minutes. I press my face into the mattress. I lie really still.

My father starts making little hiccup sounds with his throat.

He’s crying.

I’ve never heard him cry before.

The gun thing I’m used to. He does that for attention. But the crying has me worried.

I wish I could see his face, but it hasn’t been five minutes yet. I wonder, When it comes to armed and crying fathers, what’s better, steel rods or force fields? I go with the force field, the kind that sends bullets back where they came from. The harder I try, the louder my heart thumps. The sound fills my ears. I feel like I’m at the bottom of a really deep pool. My ears hurt, but I don’t stop. I’m not a quitter.

I look out from under my hair.

My father’s gone.

I roll over and stare up at the ceiling. I can’t do this anymore. I have to get away. I just need to figure out how.

© 2010 Kelle James

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