In a powerful novel in verse, an award-winning author offers an eye-opening look at the life of Marilyn Monroe.
From the day she was born into a troubled home to her reigning days as a Hollywood icon, Marilyn Monroe (née Norma Jeane Mortenson) lived a life that was often defined by others. Here, in a luminous poetic narrative, acclaimed author Carole Boston Weatherford tells Marilyn’s story in a way that restores her voice to its rightful place: center stage.
Revisiting Marilyn’s often traumatic early life—foster homes, loneliness, sexual abuse, teen marriage—through a hard-won, meteoric rise to stardom that brought with it exploitation, pill dependency, and depression, the lyrical narrative continues through Marilyn’s famous performance at JFK’s birthday party, three months before her death. In a story at once riveting, moving, and unflinching, Carole Boston Weatherford tells a tale of extraordinary pain and moments of unexpected grace, gumption, and perseverance, as well as the inexorable power of pursuing one’s dreams. A beautifully designed volume.---from the publisher
192 pages 978-1536206296 Ages 13 and up
Keywords: novel in verse, celebrity, foster home, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, teen marriage, depression, perseverance, dreams, 13 year old, 14 year old, 15 year old, 16 year old, poetry
“But please don’t tread on dearest Marilyn
Cause she’s not very tough
She should have been made of iron or steel
But she was only made of flesh and blood”
-- The Kinks, “Celluloid Heroes (1972)
“Men grow cold as girls grow old
And we all lose our charms in the end
But square cut or pear shaped
These rocks don’t lose their shape
Diamonds are a girl’s best friend”
-- composed by Jule Styne and Leo Robin; performed by Marilyn Monroe in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1953)
“The Meaning of Mama
Don’t call me Mama,
said Ida Bolender, my foster mother,
explaining that we were not kin.
You’re old enough to know better.
You just board here, she said,
adding that my mother would be visiting the next day.
Call her Mama if you want.
Gladys never kissed me
or held me or had much to say to me,
but I obeyed my foster mother.
Hello, Mama, I said.
Gladys just stared.
At least I knew who she was.
When I visited the rooming house
where she lived, I hid in the closet for hours.
As I lay in bed at night turning the pages of a book,
she’d say, Don’t make so much noise, Norma.
The sound made her nervous.
Mama had plenty to grieve about.
Her father and grandmother both died
in mental hospitals, and her brother
killed himself. Her unhappy childhood ended
at age fifteen when she married a man twelve years older.
She had two children by Jasper Baker
and two concussions at his hand
before coming home early from work
and catching him in bed with another woman.
None of the silent negatives she spliced
as a film cutter for a movie studio
prepared Gladys for the scene that day
or for the fallout.
After a big fight, Jasper left Gladys--
but not for good, not without the children.
Mama was so down that she didn’t see him
sneak back and kidnap her two babies.
She spent many months and all her savings
on a hunt that led to Kentucky.
She hitchhiked there.
Jasper had a new wife and a fine home.
And her children had a shot at happiness.
Mama didn’t have the heart to face them,
believing they were better off without her.
By the time I was born, she was claiming
that her two older children were dead.
She practiced the lie so often,
she may have come to believe it.”
The truth of Marilyn Monroe’s formative years is every bit as upsetting as the grittiest made-up stories in today’s YA novels. BEAUTY MARK, Carole Boston Weatherford’s revealing verse novel about the life and death of Marilyn Monroe, is a stunning tribute to the legendary American icon and a tasty teen-sized slice of American cultural history.
As the result of mental health issues suffered by Marilyn’s mother and grandmother, the future film star was lucky to survive her infancy and childhood. She never met her father. With her mother eventually institutionalized, Norma Jean Mortenson (as her birth certificate read) grew up being bounced around between foster homes, orphanages, friends, and relatives. Her first marriage at sixteen helped her escape one horrific situation, and landed her in an equally-bad one. Five years later, she was divorced and on the road to immortality.
“The camera loved me and I loved it back.
All my life, I had been an outsider, an orphan.
For the first time, I realized where I belonged
and who I belonged to: the public.”
Marilyn straightened and bleached her hair as she embarked on a modeling career and by the time she was twenty, she was working in films. A few years later in the early 1950s, she hit it big in Hollywood, but after two more marriages and a decade of stardom, she took her own life.
Why would twenty-first century adolescents be interested in this very hot, very problematic actress who hit her peak back in the Eisenhower years? I suggest encouraging them to watch one of her movies. After reading BEAUTY MARK, I certainly needed to see one of them.
I hadn’t seen any Marilyn Monroe films in nearly fifty years, back in the days when Elton John rhapsodized about her in “Candle in the Wind.” I located the 1959 black-and-white comedy “Some Like it Hot” available on demand, and fired up a batch of popcorn. It’s the film for which Marilyn won a Golden Globe, and which the American Film Institute ranks as the 14th greatest American movie of all time. My reaction? The combination of her sexiness, comedic talent, and vulnerability shine through just as strongly today as they did then.
There’s a lot of pain packed into this phenomenal, YA verse-novel biography. Thanks to this absorbing verse novel, I now see the late screen actress as far more than a legend and a pretty face.
Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA