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*Starred Review* At 15, Booker went to work at a funeral home in West Baltimore and spent the next nine years viewing life from the perspective of death. The proprietor, Al Wylie, was fastidious and ambitious, loving to grieving families and mercurial to his staff. Having lost an aunt and fearful of losing her mother to cancer, Booker grew close to Wylie, his family, and the staff at the funeral home. Together, they watched the highs and lows of life in the neighborhood made famous by the HBO show The Wire, as drug trade and violence brought in more business. Booker recounts emotional restraint as families grieved; the intimacy of tending to death; the discretion needed to deal with money arrangements, from Cadillac services to the blue dingy for the poor; and the diplomacy of refereeing family disputes and gangbanging retribution. She chronicles a changing urban culture as funeral garb morphed from somber black to photo-screened memorial T-shirts as more of their customers were adolescent black men. At a very tender age, Booker struggled to convince herself that death lent meaning to life for those left behind. A darkly comic memoir of life and death in urban America.--Bush, Vanessa Copyright 2010 Booklist
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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) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.