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Smile for the Camera: A Memoir Hardcover – November 2, 2010


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Editorial Reviews

From 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. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

From Booklist

A tough but naive 16-year-old country girl flees a brutal, disturbed father to try for a modeling career in the Big Apple. In this episodic memoir, James recalls her early experiences: living on a $3-per-day budget in the back room of an agency; sneaking into a cheap hotel to use the communal shower; looking for work on perpetually blistered feet; making tight women friends but often feeling “like I’m catnip to every borderline pedophile in Manhattan”; losing her virginity to an older man she comes to despise; and, ultimately, making enough doing ad work to get an apartment (roach infested, but still) of her own. She also becomes something of a witness to history, as she gains a replacement father figure in Buddy Jacobson, a secretive but sociable landlord who was convicted (wrongly, as she plainly believes) of a Mob-style hit on his ex-girlfriend’s fiancé. Readers will learn more about the seamy underside of late 1970s New York than the actual ins and outs of modeling, but James delivers healthy doses of humor and poignancy in fluent present-tense prose. Grades 9-12. --John Peters
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers; 1 edition (November 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1442406232
  • ISBN-13: 978-1442406230
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.3 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,110,876 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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For a quick, compelling read, go get this book!!
A. H.
The author goes between present and past, giving you an idea of what Kelle endured and making the book all the more exciting.
Reader
A true story of hope - no matter what life may throw at you.
Kathy Morris

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Trishrides on November 8, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This book is geared towards teenagers, but in my opinion, it can go on the Adult Non-Fiction shelf, as well.
Kelle James words made me feel as if I was there or seeing it on the big screen. If it WAS a movie, I might find myself yelling at the screen, trying to help her along in her naive teen years on the streets of NYC. Scary and poignant times in the city mixed with flashbacks of her childhood years dealing with an abusive father.
A sweet and gullible girl doing the best she can to find a life as a model and actress after leaving her hometown at the age of 16.
Definite page turner and it left me wanting to know more and hoping for a sequel.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Kathy Morris on November 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This memoir is written in such a tremendous style, you don't want to put the book down. Whether you're 16 or 60, you'll enjoy this story. Sometimes shocking yet so real. There are segments that will make you giggle too. A true story of hope - no matter what life may throw at you. Going from a small town in Maryland to the Big Apple, Kelle falls into some of the most amusing and yet some very dangerous situations. A fascinating tale of tragedy and triumph. Her life experiences will touch your heart. This book will make a great gift for the holidays. Kelle is a rare author that leaves you with wanting more.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Tom Kennedy on December 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Have never heard of Kelle James, so was anxious to see what she had to say - and say it she did!
Honest, brave, forthright with her memoir, but beyond that - Ms James is a first-rate writer, and I surmise, a first-time author. (I guess that is why I had never heard of her.)
I certainly hope we will hear from her again. There's always room on my shelf for a talented writer like Kelle James.
Tom Kennedy
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Format: Hardcover
The victim of an abusive father, country girl Kelle James sets out at the tender age of 16 for New York City to become a model. At 5'3", Kelle was told that she was too short to model and would never find work in New York City. Kelle got her first big break in modeling when she went to work for Buddy and Melanie, co-owners of a modeling agency called My Fair Lady. Slowly the go-sees paid off and Kelle gained a fair amount of success. Eventually she was able to afford her own studio apartment--a welcome change from being homeless and relying on men who only took advantage of her youth and beauty. Kelle's reputation as an actress and model becomes jeopardized when Buddy is put on trial for the murder of Melanie's new boyfriend, Jack Tupper.

Kelle James has lived an extraordinary life, one that feels as if it were entirely fiction. When I first learned about this book, I was convinced it had to be fiction. I'd never heard of Kelle James before, and I definitely won't forget her after reading the revealing chapters of her young life. Though she was abused not only by her father but also by disgusting New York City men, Kelle is surprisingly strong. For awhile, history does repeat itself, but as Kelle learns that she doesn't need to rely on anyone but herself (and her saucy best friend Rayna), she is finally able to stand up for herself.

"Smile for the Camera" will appeal to readers interested in characters who triumph in the bleakest of situations and true crime. I was fascinated by Buddy, and it led me to look up news articles pertaining to Jack Tupper's murder. I think that Kelle handled the murder portion of her memoir very well, never accusing or defending Buddy, but just showing the reader Buddy as she knew him.
Read more ›
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By Clevelander83 VINE VOICE on December 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Kelle James was 16 - and looked like 13 - when she waved goodbye to her abusive father and set off for New York City. Hoping to make it as model, she set up shop at the iconic Barbizon Hotel for Women. One go see with Ford Models later, she was told that she was too short and would never model in "this city".

Kelle did manage to get signed with My Fair Lady modeling agency, but actual jobs were slow to materialize. Kelle and fellow aspiring model Rayna bonded over their shared dreams, and equally shared homelessness, with Rayna looking out for her more innocent friend. Together, they endured living on $3 a day in a storage room of the modeling agency, crashing at abandoned and rat infested apartments and being prey to every "borderline pedophile in Manhattan".

In her memoir, James recalls her experience as a young model in 1970s New York, as well as her inadvertent participation in a famous murder trial. While at My Fair Lady, she befriended Buddy Jacobson who was convicted - wrongly in her opinion - of brutally murdering his ex-girlfriend's fiance (read the story here).

Smile for the Camera is a candid and honest account by a woman who persevered despite the odds, and who managed to tell her difficult story with a healthy dose of humor. At times, I had the feeling that James was relying too much on flashbacks and not delving enough into what her experiences in New York really meant. However, I appreciated any amount of introspection (difficult as it must have been) and James' story kept me turning pages, eager to learn her fate.
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By liz ramos on February 23, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There is never a dull moment in this stunning memoir of the life of a wannabe model/actress in New York in the late 1970's.
Kelle James escapes her home of neglect, corporal punishment, and verbal abuse at the tender age of sixteen to seek a brighter future in the Big Apple.
Her beauty is a blessing, as well as a curse as she navigates the strange city on her own until a colorful cast of characters joins her on her journey.
Kelle writes with humor, humility, audacity, and heart. She's the heroine you laugh with, cry for, but can't help cheer for as she not only survives life in the big city, but ultimately conquers it with tenacity and grace.
I read this book in one sitting. I attempted to put it down to prolong my enjoyment, but Kelle jumped off the page and into my heart.
I highly recommend this book to any young person longing to fulfill their passion in a big city, as well as anyone who came of age in the 1970's who remembers the carefree, (and often cringe-worthy) era of disco, drugs, and unsafe sex.
"Smile For The Camera" was consistently compelling until the very last page.
I only hope that Kelle James honors us with more of her engaging prose.
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