The Wisdom of Hair

The Wisdom of Hair

by Kim Boykin


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780425261057
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/05/2013
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.40(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Kim Boykin learned about women and their hair in her mother’s beauty shop in a tiny South Carolina town. She loves to write stories about strong Southern women, because that’s what she knows. Kim is an accomplished public speaker, serves on the board of the South Carolina Writer’s Workshop, and edits the organization’s monthly newsletter. She lives with her husband, three dogs, and 126 rose bushes. Visit her website to learn more about her second passion after writing, food.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"As we’ve long suspected our hair can define us. It can also teach us things about ourselves that will surprise and change us. The Wisdom of Hair is a lovely, engaging novel! Zora Adams is a heroine to root for!"—Wendy Wax

"The Wisdom of Hair has a big beating heart, and I couldn't put it down. What I loved best about the book was the pervasive kindness; page after page, good people try their best, sometimes succeeding, and sometimes failing. It's hard to write an engaging novel about (mostly) nice people, but Kim Boykin has pulled it off."—Ann Napolitano

Reading Group Guide


In 1983, on her nineteenth birthday, Zora Adams finally says goodbye to her alcoholic mother and their tiny town in the mountains of South Carolina. Living with a woman who dresses like Judy Garland and brings home a different man each night is not a pretty existence, and Zora is ready for life to be beautiful.

With the help of a beloved teacher, she moves to a coastal town and enrolls in the Davenport School of Beauty. Under the tutelage of Mrs. Cathcart, she learns the art of fixing hair, and becomes fast friends with the lively Sara Jane Farquhar, a natural hair stylist. She also falls hard for handsome young widower Winston Sawyer, who is drowning his grief in bourbon. She couldn’t save Mama, but maybe she can save him.

As Zora practices finger waves, updos, and spit curls, she also comes to learn that few things are permanent in this life—except real love, lasting friendship, and, ultimately.forgiveness.


Kim Boykin loves to write fiction stories about strong Southern women, because that’s what she knows. Kim is an accomplished public speaker and serves on the board of the South Carolina Writer’s Workshop. She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband, three dogs, and 126 rose bushes.


  • Throughout the novel, Zora fears becoming her mother. To what extent do you think she has inherited her mother’s traits, or do you think she has successfully escaped following in her mother’s footsteps?
  • Dressing up as someone else is a common theme. For example, Zora’s mother dresses up as Judy Garland, and Winston first notices Zora when she is wearing Emma’s dress. Do you think this signifies that the characters are striving to be something more than they are, or is it simply a sign of their insecurities?
  • Zora and Winston have a chemistry that doesn’t require conversation or having anything in common other than each other. Do you think they ever really loved each other, or is it only infatuation?
  • Zora says that the reason she leaves Winston is because he doesn’t defend her when John Ridgeway alludes to her being “mountain folk.” How much of her leaving Winston then, do you think, is about his actions, and how much is about the actual comment?
  • Zora straddles two worlds: her life in the mountains and her life in Davenport. How much of a person’s character is shaped by his/her upbringing, and do you think it is something that can ever be truly left in the past?
  • When Zora is pregnant, she has a dream about Daddy Heyward, who tells her “if you ever want anything powerful bad, it’s ok” (p. 204). What do you think is it that Zora wants “powerful bad”?
  • Mrs. Farquhar and Zora’s mother represent extremes in motherhood. Mrs. Farquhar is a picture–perfect mother, and Zora’s mother is an alcoholic who offers little love or guidance to her daughter. Zora is a product of these two extreme motherly figures by the end of the novel, and becomes a parent herself. What effect do these two parenting styles eventually have on Zora?
  • Zora says that she notices how the women who come into the hair salon “want something different, a change. They want to be happy” (p. 138). After enrolling in school, Zora, unlike the other girls, doesn’t constantly change her hair. What does this say about her?
  • The novel is filled with lasting female bonds, and Zora refers to Mrs. Farquhar and Sara Jane as “the sisterhood.” How do these strong female characters and their relationships with each other compare to their relationships with the men in the novel?
  • When Zora’s mother comes to visit her before Thanksgiving, she says she is sober and has come to make amends for what she has done in the past, which includes confessing the real reason Zora’s father died. Do you think she is sincere in her desire to turn her life around, or do agree with Miss Cunningham when she says, “People like your mom don’t change, Zorie”? Do you think people have the capacity to make drastic changes in their lives, or are they always trapped in their old ways?
  • Zora and Emma share more than one similarity. What are these similarities and how do you think that impacted Zora’s relationship with Winston?
  • Alcoholism is a constant presence in the novel. In what ways does Winston’s reliance on drinking feed his relationship with Zora, and in what ways does it pull them apart?
  • When she thinks about Sara Jane’s happiness with Jimmy, Zora wonders if “her time will ever come.” At the end of the novel, do you think she has found “her time,” in her own way? How so?
  • Several characters in the novel pretend to live different lives, including Mother Hannah, who believes she received a brooch as a gift from Florenz Ziegfeld. However, Zora is guilty of living in a fantasy world with Winston. To what degree do you think living in a fantasy is harmless, and when does it turn dangerous?
  • Ethyl Fontaine seemingly hated Zora when she first came in to get her hair done, but then requested that Zora style her hair when she knew she was about to die. In what ways does something as simple as a haircut impact both the customer and the stylist? What, to you, is “the wisdom of hair?”
  • We never fully learn Winston’s history with Emma, but we know he tries to drink the pain of her death away. Do you sympathize at all with Winston, as a victim of a tragedy, or do you think he’s weak and unable to move on with his life?
  • Zora says it is in her nature to keep things to herself, and Sissy Carson says to her, “You’re too damn private, Zora. You can’t keep everything inside of you. It’ll kill you just like it did Ed” (p. 117). Has there ever been a time when you haven’t told even your closest friend an important part of your life? Do you agree with Sissy that you can’t hold everything in, or do you think it’s ok to keep certain aspects of your life private?
  • Customer Reviews

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    The Wisdom of Hair 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
    Rebecca_Berto More than 1 year ago
    3.5 stars THE WISDOM OF HAIR is a beautiful book to read. I have not been to southern America, but I can absolutely *feel* what it would be like from this novel. Kim Boykin writes with that type of style, so homely, and it’s so easy to devour this novel fast! Perhaps I was supposed to dislike Winston, but I liked him a lot. He was in such desperate need of help through his alcoholism. He was addicted to—essentially through drinking until he passed out—wasting his life away. However, when Zora came into his life he slowly changed. And I mean slowlyyy. At first he didn’t notice her for week. He just drank. But their relationship started getting closer and I adored seeing them together though it hurt a little knowing his alcoholism would always get in the way of everything he did. Zora—well, I’m glad this girl up and left her mother. That woman was also a mess and Zora is such a great girl to narrate this story. Her new home where she moves and finds a brand new step-in family (who were more family-like than her biological one) and works as a hairdresser, which makes her happy, is surprising and lovely to see unravel. The only reason why I gave THE WISDOM OF HAIR a 3.5-star review is because nothing wowed me to give that perfect, 5 star and the ending—although I think it fit the story fairly well—wasn’t for me. 3.5 stars
    lildirtydesigner More than 1 year ago
    You meet the main character Zora Adams who is on the path to nowhere where her Mom is a no good drunk and she doesn't have any real future except for a glimmer of hope brought to her by a teacher. She takes a leap of faith when she asks her teacher to drive her to beauty school in Davenport NC. This is where the majority of the story takes place. You meet wonderful characters and really see Zora grow up. She meets Sara Jane and the rest of the Farquhar family. This is great story of friendship and finding out that people make their own mistakes. It is up to a strong individual to break the cycle and trust the instincts of the inner self.
    MisfitGeek More than 1 year ago
    I really tried to like this book but just couldn’t.  Aside from a very few entertaining scenes, I found it to be pages and pages of mind-numbing drivel.  In my opinion, the plot was weak and the characters were poorly developed and, generally, unlikeable.  The story skipped around a lot and was, in general, unfocused.  There was very little to do with wisdom, hair, beauty school or beauty salons and that was extremely disappointing.    I seldom give books 1 star ratings/reviews because I generally don’t even make it to the end.  The only reason I even made it to the end of this one is because I was interested in the side story of Sara Jane.  For that reason only, I am giving this book 1.5 stars.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Hi reallly...
    StephWard More than 1 year ago
    'The Wisdom of Hair' is a heartwarming and fun book that tells the tale of Zora Adams - a young woman who leaves her alcoholic mother when she turns nineteen. Zora makes her way to a coastal town and enrolls in the Davenport School of Beauty, where she learns the ins and outs of styling and fixing hair. Along the way, Zora finds great friendship with a fellow hair stylist named Sara Jane; and she also finds herself falling in love with a young widower named Winston. While learning how to fix and style hair, Zora finds herself learning much more about life, love, and friendship than she bargained for. This was a truly uplifting and captivating novel that is the epitome of women's fiction. Zora is a great main character and the reader will easily identify with her. She is a devoted friend and daughter, but realizes that her dreams are far from her life living in a small town with her drunk of a mother. Although Zora has wonderful qualities, like every real person, she also has flaws - which I thought made her more accessible and realistic. She learns a lot throughout the course of the novel and the reader gets to watch her character grow and mature. The topics that the book deals with are common but important - lessons that all of us must learn at one point or another in life. It deals with life, love, family, forgiveness, friendship, and finding yourself - all of which are deep yet uplifting for the reader to experience alongside Zora. The setting was perfect and I loved reading about the town on the coast along with the assortment of smaller characters that Zora comes across. The descriptions were vivid and detailed, which enabled me to really immerse myself in Zora's life. The writing was very well done with a quick pace and seamless flow. I definitely recommend this novel for fans of women's fiction and chick lit. Disclosure: I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
    kydirtgirl68 More than 1 year ago
    Zora lost her dad at a young age and has to deal with an alcoholic mother who dresses like Judy Garland. When she turns 19 she finally has enough and leaves her mountain home to go to a beauty school. In the school along with learning how to do hair she makes the best friend she has ever. Sara Jane is different from Zora in many ways but they become more like sisters than friends. Zora has a problem tho she is in love with Winston a handsome widower who seems to be an alcoholic. Zora soon learns life has many twist and turns and you never know we're you will find your true family. Zora is a sweet girl who you like instantly. She really tries her best to do what is right. You see she is a wonderful friend and is very caring for people. She woke hard to accomplish her goals. Like a lot of people she thinks she can save someone she loves. I highly enjoyed her story. Sara Jane is the best friend a girl can have. She isn't book smart but in many ways she is very smart in the way or real life. There is tons of other fascinating characters to get to know in this book. I will say another favorite for me was Sara Jane's parents. At first I wasn't sure what o think of them but by the end I just wanted to hug these fictional characters myself. I was so excited to get the chance yo read this book. I loved the sound of it from the blurb. What pulled me in was the time 1983, and the whole plot. I remember going to a beauty school with my grandmother in the 80's and this book brought back so many fond memories. You get to see Zora really grow up and realize many things about her past in this book. This is one girl's journey from childhood and into her future. Thais book with it's wonderful range of characters to not knowing what will go on next kept me wanting more. I did get a few laughs out of this book especially a scene in a Wafflehouse. The author did a great job writing about the beauty school, the time period and the characters. It all seemed very believable and was like reading about a real person life unfolding. You get love, friendship and true family all wrapped up in a wonderful book. Who would I recommend this to? That's easy everyone! I adore this cover!  It's perfect for the book.
    BookishThings More than 1 year ago
    Wisdom of Hair is very much a coming of age story. It also has a Steel Magnolias feel to it, which I love! Zora is a character you either love, or hate. I have a feeling for her that's somewhere in between. When she decides it's time to liver her life away from her mother, she is so strong. Zora tries so hard not to become her mother, but there are times it seems she's headed down that same path. Her friend Sara Jane is pretty awesome. She's the friend all girls wish they had. She doesn't judge Zora for her decisions, and runs to her side anytime she needs the help. The pacing is slow, but in a good way. It's a lazy, summer day read. Zora doesn't always make the right decisions, but she's done great in deciding who to place her trust in. It's easy for her to make friends, and the ones she has will do anything for her. Emotions run high at times. There are times you are laughing your butt off, and times that you want to curl into a ball and cry. This is a very realistic storyline. Although it takes place in 1983, the same events still happen everywhere today. You just hope that those in this situation find a great outcome. I definitely recommend this book. Even if you want to tell Zora how dumb she's being, you'll still empathize with her. She does what she thinks is right at the time, and deals with whatever the consequences may be.
    JGum More than 1 year ago
    I really enjoyed my time with Zora May Adams. What a great character! I took a lot away from this book; a lesson in courage, though it took Zora some time to uncover all that she had, and an enduring sense of family and the idea that blood isn't always the necessary ingredient to make one. The descriptive writing is so well done and one of the reasons I love to read... so I can visit places I've never been..smell them, taste them, feel the air. It's a charming story with a wonderful character. I'm looking forward to Kim"s next book.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    LOVED the book. While some may not enjoy it due to the lack of explicit sex and graphic language, it is a beautifully written book about the importance of friendship and love, and how changing your life can be as simple as chaning your hair.
    Mystery_GirlSC More than 1 year ago
    Beautifully Written Southern Novel - Kim Boykin explores the core of female relationships and all the layers as well in The Wisdom of Hair. I love, and can relate to, the idea of wanting to change your hair because you really want to change your life. Boykin does justice to the calling of being a hairdresser, and the hairdresser-client relationship. But she also speaks eloquently about the nurturing sisterhood among women who are connected to each other--and the sometimes toxic relationships we have to extricate ourselves from to survive. The voice of Boykin's main character, Zora, is compelling and true. I loved this book!
    JerseyGirlBookReviews More than 1 year ago
    The Wisdom of Hair is an emotional story of family, friendship, self-discovery, love and forgiveness. The year is 1983 in the mountain town of Cleveland, SC. Nineteen year old Zora Adams has had enough of taking care of her narcissistic, alcoholic, man chasing, Judy Garland obsessed mother. Striking out on her own is the only way that Zora can have a better life of her own. Taking advice from her high school teacher, Zora leaves her mountain hometown for a coastal town in South Carolina, where she enrolls in the Davenport School of Beauty. Zora's journey of self-discovery will provide her a chance to grow, make friends, embark on a career in hair styling, find love, learn life lessons, and gain the courage to let go of her past. I am a huge fan of Southern Women's Fiction, and in The Wisdom of Hair, author Kim Boykin weaves a thoroughly enjoyable tale that fulfilled my expectations. Written in the first person narrative, Zora Adams takes the reader along for the ride on her journey of self-discovery. When the reader first meets Zora, she is a shy young woman who is wiser than her years because she is the enabling caretaker of an alcoholic mother. Suffocating in her role, Zora strikes out on her own in search of making a better life for herself. Her journey takes her to a coastal town in South Carolina where she enrolls in the Davenport School of Beauty. Zora grows as she makes new friends who will ultimately change her life: Mrs. Cathcart, owner of the beauty school; outgoing classmate Sara Jane Farquhar, whose close friendship provides Zora with a family that she desperately craves; and a romantic relationship with Winston Sawyer, a young widower who is drowning his grief in alcohol. Each of these people will help redefine, shape, and change Zora's life in a profound way. This beautifully written and captivating story engages the reader to follow along as Zora's journey of self-discovery leads her on a path of experiencing life at its fullest, while embracing life's challenges and lessons, and having the courage to let go of her past as she forges a life of her own. This story has shades of Steel Magnolias running through it, as it gives the reader a warm and fuzzy feeling as they follow Zora, Sara Jane and Winston's stories. I loved that the author chose the 1980s time period for this story, it embodied all the fun that made up that decade. I also love the hair salon setting, it brought to mind many fond memories of spending time in my family's salons in both NJ and NC. With a quirky cast of characters; witty dialogue and interactions; a richly descriptive setting; and a storyline that delves into the complications of family, friendships, love and life; The Wisdom of Hair is an entertaining tale of hair styling and self-discovery that simply made me smile.
    Chick-Lit-Chit-Chat-Blog More than 1 year ago
    It’s always a great read when the main character is shaped in part from a childhood of extreme poverty in the Appalachian mountains, the 480 million year old North American mountain range that stretches from north Georgia in the United States into parts of southeast Canada. If you enjoy stories with roots in central and southern Appalachia, a nice complement to Kim Boykin’s The Wisdom of Hair would beElizabeth Flock‘s Emma & Me. In Boykin’s book, the main character, Zora May Adams, moves away from the mountains to a coastal town to attend beauty school, but is reminded of her mountain upbringing in a story-changing scene during a chance encounter that is so harrowing to Zora, I wanted to reach into the pages and pull her into a warm embrace. This, coupled with a visit to her childhood home give much for the reader to contemplate about life in Appalachia as well as the old adage, ‘You can take the girl out of [Appalachia] but you can’t take the [Appalachia] out of the girl.’ The Wisdom of Hair is a story about love, healing and forgiveness and shines a light on the devastating effects of alcoholism, especially when one particular character in the story is both an alcoholic and a narcissist who believes she is Judy Garland. Through the shadows of narcissism come intense shame and convenient distortions of reality making this a truly remarkable story of courage and letting go. I sensed a tinge of a doppelganger, a literary device taken from the German language which means ‘double walker’ in which one character acts as a copy of another character. I saw a hint of this through the mother-daughter relationship between Mrs. Cathcart, the owner of the Davenport School of Beauty, and her mother – as compared to the mother-daughter relationship between Zora, the main character, and her mother. Ironically, both mothers in this tale, I believe, suffer from a form of Narcissistic Personality Disorder which brings with it warped realities (both mothers are “confused” about their lives as performance stars) and deep feelings of shame for the daughters raised in this mania. I found Zora’s reaction (or lack thereof) to Mrs. Cathcart’s upbringing quite interesting. There’s more than one character in the story that is tragic from beginning to end which gives the storyline an honesty that is needed for Zora to heal and I found it refreshing that those characters did not suddenly up and cure themselves by the closing of the book. Sometimes disease and pain do not simply go away, they have to be confronted, dealt with, and at times, cut from our lives – like a haircut.   Two love stories in the book, that of Zora and Winston, and that of Sara Jane and Jimmy served as good contrasts to each other. I found it ironic that Zora found herselfliterally feeding Winston through cooking that provided her with shelter and figurativelyfeeding Winston’s many needs. Readers will love the young women at the Davenport School of Beauty which serves as the portal for change, not just for the young beauticians seeking a different life, but the clients they serve. Book clubbers will enjoy discussing how Boykin’s book compares with other books that celebrate strong sisterhood and the important role of having strong women in our lives. NOTE: I read from a publisher’s proof copy before the book was printed. Therefore, I cannot supply direct quotes from the version I read unless the quotes are then checked against the final bound copy. But trust me, there were many great sentences I highlighted while reading on my Kindle. Rest assured, you will enjoy both the story and the actual writing!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago