Just Kids by Patti Smith

In an era when young adults are constantly being criticized for their ‘wishy-washy’ life plans, Just Kids is a reminder that every generation takes their time to figure out who they are and what they want. Just Kids is the story of Patti Smith figuring out who she was, the people that were influential in that journey, and the burgeoning relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe.

Their story starts on the cusp of change for Smith. With nearly nothing in her pocket or hands, Smith ventures to begin her life in New York City. Arriving at night with flimsy plans or flimsy friends, she wanders through the un-patrolled streets and infested parks, when, simply by chance, she comes across a lanky yet friendly figure. Enter Mapplethorpe, a man with which she would begin a romance, a friendship, and a dependent artist connection with as the years in New York City pass.

For years, they flipped between lovers and friends. They were always together, no matter where they lived at the time or what artistic projects they were persuing. In a small walk-up in Brooklyn, The Hotel Chelsea, a studio space without a bathroom, their connection orbited one another for years.

When they began, Mapplethorpe was exploring collages and physical manipulations of expression and Smith was a bibliophile with an interest in sketching the physical form. They were both a far cry away from who they would end up becoming or, arguably, who they were meant to be. It takes the entirety of this book, trips to Paris, boyfriends and friends that came and went, years of work for either of them to realize the work they would be doing or were more inclined to do. So what was that about generation z?

The beauty of this book is found in the familiarity of the writing. The voice and conversational aspect that brews in-between the two main characters makes this a swift and comfortable read. Although, I must admit that I started this book months before I finished it. Inexplicably, however, the second time around was a frenzy of pages. More accustomed to the tone and the people, the pages turn faster and faster the further you go.

And even if you don’t know Patti Smith and her nearly forty-five years in the music industry or Mapplethorpe and his revolutionary efforts to artistically credit photography, one can always relate to the journey they went on together. It could be the same journey you’re on currently or one that seems like a fleeting drink, either way, one can’t regret falling into New York City in it’s un-gentrified, rough-and-rowdy days.

Just Kids has also won the 2010 National Book Award for Nonfiction, was a Publisher’s Weekly Top 10 Best Books in 2010, was on the American Library Association Notable List, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in 2010 and currently, a New York Times Bestseller in 2010, National Book Critics Circle Award finalist in 2010, and the winner of The New York Times One Book, One New York winner in 2019.

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