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Editorial Reviews

In 1989, just before famously controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe died too young of AIDS complications at age 42, he made his very best friend promise to tell their story. Patti Smith took many years to do it, but the incredible result, Just Kids has proven well worth the wait. Winner of the National Book Award, Smith's delicate tribute to her relationship with Mapplethorpe and their love affair with New York City is read by Patti Smith herself.

No one else could narrate this, and no one else could have written this. After Smith ditched college to move to New York in 1967, a chance encounter in which Mapplethorpe saved her from an expectant date by pretending to be her angry boyfriend touched off one of the most historic artistic partnerships the city had ever seen. Embarking at first as lovers, they clung to their art and each other through poverty and misfortune in the late-60s, moving steadily closer to the center of cultural influence in the 70s. Mapplethorpe struggled with coming out of the closet and Smith struggled to find an artistic medium that suited her best. Together, they swam through everything that made New York great and terrible, each eventually emerging as a pioneering independent spirit that to this day knows no equal.

Smith's voice as both the writer and the narrator is simply unimpeachable. Reflective and soft-spoken, she humbly attempts to capture two decades of this inspirational partnership. Listeners can tell she is thinking through every image she has written here, pausing occasionally to let it sink in for herself or to let the dialogue get caught in her throat. By turns haunted and poetic, by turns silly and sarcastic, Smith trips along these enchanting bits of history in a way that is utterly endearing. It's not at all like inviting somebody famous to entertain you with gossip at dinner. Real respect must be paid. Listeners will be in awe of the fact that Patti Smith comes across as a totally normal person who stumbled into an extraordinary life. Even if you've already passed totally engrossed through the hard copy of this book, to hear it from Patti Smith's own mouth is simply an otherworldly experience. This audiobook is an essential companion to the text that will not only bear repeated listening, but will beg for it. —Megan Volpert

Publisher's Summary

National Book Award, Nonfiction, 2010

It was the summer Coltrane died, the summer of love and riots, and the summer when a chance encounter in Brooklyn led two young people on a path of art, devotion, and initiation.

Patti Smith would evolve as a poet and performer, and Robert Mapplethorpe would direct his highly provocative style toward photography. Bound in innocence and enthusiasm, they traversed the city from Coney Island to 42nd Street, and eventually to the celebrated round table of Max's Kansas City, where the Andy Warhol contingent held court. In 1969, the pair set up camp at the Hotel Chelsea and soon entered a community of the famous and infamous - the influential artists of the day and the colorful fringe. It was a time of heightened awareness, when the worlds of poetry, rock and roll, art, and sexual politics were colliding and exploding. In this milieu, two kids made a pact to take care of each other. Scrappy, romantic, committed to create, and fueled by their mutual dreams and drives, they would prod and provide for one another during the hungry years.

Just Kids begins as a love story and ends as an elegy. It serves as a salute to New York City during the late 60s and 70s and to its rich and poor, its hustlers and hellions. A true fable, it is a portrait of two young artists' ascent, a prelude to fame.

©2010 Patti Smith (P)2011 Patti Smith

Critic Reviews

“Smith’s beautifully crafted love letter to her friend Robert Mapplethorpe functions as a memento mori of a relationship fueled by passion for art and writing. Her elegant eulogy lays bare the chaos and the creativity so embedded in that earlier time and in Mapplethorpe’s life and work.” ( Publishers Weekly, Top Ten Books of the Year)
“The most enchantingly evocative memoir of funky-but-chic New York in the late 1960s and early 1970s that any alumnus has yet committed to print.” (Janet Maslin's top 10 books of 2010, New York Times)
“Reading rocker Smith’s account of her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, it’s hard not to believe in fate. How else to explain the chance encounter that threw them together, allowing both to blossom? Quirky and spellbinding.” ( People, Top 10 Books of 2010)

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  • Lori
  • Carmel, IN, United States
  • 10-20-17

interesting look into their early life together

I liked the book and Patti Smith did a great job narrating. Gives a glimpse into their relationship and struggles being young and artistic. Makes one think about our own children and supporting their artistic endeavors.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Lindsay
  • Denver, CO, United States
  • 06-27-16

Not my cup of tea

What would have made Just Kids better?

Patti Smith saying any word that ended in "aw" correctly. It's great that this book is in her own voice, but the way she mispronounced words drove me NUTS.

Has Just Kids turned you off from other books in this genre?

No, but I probably wont listen to any other books written or narrated by Patti Smith.

What didn’t you like about Patti Smith’s performance?

Hated it. Ruined the book for me.

Any additional comments?

My assessment of this book might not be the most fair, but the story and her narration did not connect with me.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Hauntingly, achingly beautiful- just fantastic

Would you consider the audio edition of Just Kids to be better than the print version?

Definitely.I read the printed book first and enjoyed it but Patti Smith reading her work makes it all the more magical. I love her funny pronunciation of words, and her style is so unique. She seems so REAL, not what you'd expect from someone of her stature.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Patti of course, but also Robert. She writes with such honesty, love, and caring. I was moved by her ability to find the best in just about all people and also by how much she loved her family. She's an incredible artist and human, a sensitive, kind soul. Lucky is the person who can call her a friend.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

This entire book moved me.Her relationship with Robert weathered many storms and their bond was never to be broken. I will keep this on my Ipod and have already listened to it several times. I love how she reads some of her poems. This is by far the best memoir I've ever had the chance to read/listen to. I could go on and on about this one.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Nice thought

While it was a nice thought that she wrote this and memorialized her friend, the book was a series of daily details of their lives. Smith's delivery was slow and i was only able to listen by turning the speed up so that she would sound like she was speaking at a normal pace. Suggestion: when performing an audio book reading lay off the weed.
There were, as others have stated, sections of the book where Smith became emotional while speaking of her friend, theses were the redeeming sections of the book.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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was prepared to like it more than I did

Patti Smith is such an interesting and admirable person, independent, intelligent and very much her own person but the memoir turned into a litany of "people who became someone" in the second section and, as such, dated it. Her life would have been so much more interesting as the center rather than appended to others - at least it felt that way - that I wish she had told her non-Robert Mapplethorpe story rather than constantly revolving about his art/obsession/confusion. Hers is a lot more interesting.

5 of 7 people found this review helpful

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Listen before you buy....

What would have made Just Kids better?

A different voice. Being from the West it was difficult and even irritating to listen to
the dry, bland Brooklyn accent. This heroine doesn't get angry, happy, sad, thrilled, excited, furious .... the voice never changes. Irritating.

What could Patti Smith have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

I assume this is someone's life story. The story is too dull not to be someone's life story...
The story is very typical of growing up in the 50's, surviving a full time stint as a hippie, even having a mate "come out". I know, I did it. And, basically that's Part 1.

What didn’t you like about Patti Smith’s performance?

The voice. There was no excitement, no surprise, no anger, no feeling. She finds out
her life partner (!) is gay and sleeping with men and it's just another day. It would have been really nice to know she was alive and living this life story.

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

The voice is most irritating, and it made me want to shake the heroine.
Reaction? Dull, bored.

Any additional comments?

And, this is just Part 1. I will grind through Part 2 simply because I cannot not finish a book, although I know the ending...
Patti Smith tells us the ending in the preface and first chapter.

8 of 12 people found this review helpful

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Boring, pretentious and a monumental waste of time

Would you try another book from Patti Smith and/or Patti Smith?

Not in a million years.

Would you ever listen to anything by Patti Smith again?

Not in a million years

How could the performance have been better?

Choose someone who can modulate their voice and express even a modicum of emotion.

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from Just Kids?

The beginning, the middle and the end.

Any additional comments?

Get over yourself, Patti Smith. You name-dropped your way into a novel with a story that could have been told in 30 pages.

13 of 20 people found this review helpful

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  • Frank
  • Stone Mountain, GA, United States
  • 07-10-13

Just a Bore

Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Patti Smith?

Anybody but her

Any additional comments?

I found this account narcissistic, self-serving and solipsistic. I too lived through this era, and while I enjoyed the references to the events and people of the 60's and 70's I couldn't wait for this book to end. Her performance was great for insomniacs who want to be lulled to sleep, but it made for an incredibly long listen. I can't imagine how this was awarded the National Book Award. Maybe the committee was impressed by all her references to the great artists and her never ending name dropping of the great performers of this era.

I really wanted to like this book and enjoyed it for awhile, but by the end I was like, OK Robert, die, so that we can turn this thing off.

13 of 20 people found this review helpful

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  • Susan
  • poplarville, MS, United States
  • 11-06-11

artists lives

Ordinarily, I do not like to comment or review a book unless I found it to be exceptional or something I truly enjoyed. This book had a riveting story, and I like these people as artists, but had to get over Patti Smith's reading of it. She has a way of speaking that is flat and monotonous. That being said, I thought this was worthwhile

7 of 11 people found this review helpful

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Finished this the day that Bowie died.

Just the other day we watched Patti Smith perform Requiem at her return to Horses show. She ended with a long list of lost heroes. It was Bowie’s 69th Birthday that night. He was not on her list. As I ran through the pre-dawn this morning, a huge eaglish head over Father Hill, Venus winking out brightly as I turned, I gave Bowie that Love planet, and added him silently to her list.

Re-listening to this book quite simply broke my heart again. Just as it built me anew, as any good Bildungsroman will do, it cleaved in me that which is most profound: the art egg that is, Phoenix-like, forever waiting to be laid and broken open, over and over at the behest of what is best in us. The maker smithies herself, the metal gets harder, sharper with each burning. These words, formed in stories and told as pristine history in her masterly truck driver mouthed voice; this is the clarion call I'm so happy to return to, particularly in this time of trenchant mortality in the art-meets-rock world.

Thank you, Patti Smith. As you said of your guitar, this book too, "Is the only weapon you'll ever need."

2 of 3 people found this review helpful