In 1983, Zora Adams turns 18 and moves away from the home she shares with her alcoholic, Judy Garland-obsessed mother in the mountains of South Carolina. She moves to the coast where she will study to fulfill her lifelong ambition of becoming a hairstylist.
While there she meets a few people who forever change her life: Sara Jane Farquhar and Winston Sawyer.
Sara Jane is the cherished daughter in a supportive family. A fellow student at the school, the girls become fast and close friends. Winston Sawyer teaches English and is an alcoholic widower still coping with the loss of his wife. She comes to love them both, and each shapes her life in a permanent way.
As Zora endeavors to become the woman she always dreamed of being, she also must deal with the demons of her past and learn to live with the cards life deals her.
The Yankee Girl in me kept making comparisons between this book and Steel Magnolias, as I mentioned earlier.Though I'm well aware these stories are set in different parts of the south, which does not make them the same, I likened it to the movie that I know and love well. This gave me an almost instant interest in digging deeper into this story.
More than the southern roots -- Zora is from South Carolina rather than Louisiana -- I kept making this connection because of the tight-knight community of women (and a couple of men) involved in hairstyling. Though Steel Magnolias was more of an ensemble cast story than The Wisdom of Hair, which has a clear-cut heroine, I loved that same element of seeing women (and, OK, a couple of men) be stronger than they appear and finding comfort and support from other each other.
I also made the connection to Jane Eyre, because like Jane, Zora is practically if not literally an orphan who finds herself drawn to people who can help or hurt her. She must also make tough decisions about the outcome of her life, which are especially difficult given the challenges she is issued.
It was an emotional ride to watch Zora navigate the best decisions for her life. I found myself constantly worrying about her welfare, because I genuinely cared about her. Her missteps were painful to observe, but they only made her movements in the ride direction all the sweeter.
Even without my finding connotations to other stories I liked, I would have enjoyed The Wisdom of Hair for its own sake. Filled with plenty of unique characters, placed in a well-described setting, told at a fast -- but smooth -- pace and complete with believable dialogue, this book was a solid read. I recommend it for anyone who enjoys stories about the complexities of family, love and life.
Rating: 4 of 5
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Book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vvwjeNhShCU
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