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20th November 2020

Non-fiction November: Just Kids by Patti Smith

Just Kids by Patti Smith is a testament to New York, art, and Robert Mapplethorpe, and is the perfect escapism for the winter lockdown
Non-fiction November: Just Kids by Patti Smith
Photo: Bana Mustafa

I have written and rewritten this review over and over again. The reason that I have found it so complicated is because Just Kids is about so many things. To list it all out is to give away the book; to summarise it in just a few lines is to do it no justice. This book is for many people but if I have to sum it up, it is for those who are artistically inclined.

By that I mean it is for all those who enjoy honest, yet beautiful lyrical prose, for those who are fascinated by the idea of New York through the 60’s and the 70’s, and by conversations with poets, artists, playwrights, and musicians. It is for those who enjoy the unconventional, the spiritual, and the real; for those who enjoy dissecting the complexity of relationships and of love and loss; and for those who enjoy visceral and atmospheric texts.

‘Where does it all lead? What will become of us? These were our young questions, and young answers were revealed. It leads to each other. We become ourselves.’

Patti Smith wrote Just Kids as an ode to her soulmate, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Two kids, who met by chance in New York City, both running away from themselves, in search for themselves. In this search, they made one promise: to always care for one another. Just Kids poetically details Smith’s relationship with Mapplethorpe with the backdrop of New York in the 60’s and 70’s.

As you go through this book, it unfolds into an elegy for Mapplethorpe. Along the way, it is an exploration of love, art, and growth. Smith’s exploration is detailed through her memories of life in New York: from being a runaway, to a poet, a singer, a playwright, and a lover.

She thoughtfully incorporates all kinds of beautiful photographs in between the pages to go along with her story, as well as her poetry, and her artwork. More than her relationship with Mapplethorpe, Smith also chronicles her encounters with characters like Bob Dylan, Sam Shepard, Janis Joplin, and more.

‘We promised that we’d never leave one another again, until we both knew we were ready to stand on our own. And this vow, through everything we were yet to go through, we kept.’

Smith writes vicariously, with a raw and sweet conviction. Just Kids echoes with wisdom and nostalgia. She easily transports you to that divine epoch of art and culture in New York. This book reveals Smith’s unrelenting nature, and magically so, as she keeps her promise to Mapplethorpe in the most thoughtfully poignant way.

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