Skin in the Game: The Stories My Tattoos Tell is a nonfiction autobiography written by Kelly J. Mendenhall with photography by Sarah B. Gilliam. Mendenhall was determined to get her first tattoo when she was 17 years old. She had to get her mom’s permission for it as she was underage, but Kelly was not giving up on the idea, no matter what her mom said. It was better than a genital piercing after all, and not nearly as bad a thing as her stepbrothers’ penchants for crack, car thefts, and arson. And, at 17, she was already a high school graduate. Not that she was particularly gifted or anything, but the circumstances of her schooling left her with too many accrued credits for a senior year. She was sure she’d be going to college, but before that, there was the matter of the tattoo and the story of how she got involved with Joey, a tattoo artist who worked at a local gas station when she was just 16.
Skin in the Game: The Stories My Tattoos Tell left me with the sense of awe and wonderment I feel on seeing anyone’s tattoos, even the tiny rose or Celtic symbol some may sport but on a far grander scale. Mendenhall is the consummate storyteller, one who bluntly forges ahead and gives you the full story. Her memoir is a fascinating one filled with stories of a life well-led and the tie-ins with her tattoos are marvelous! The tattoos themselves are genuine works of art, and Gilliam’s photography ensures you get every nuance of coloring and design strategy. I had a grand time reading this funny, provocative and ultimately human story, which is written in a conversational style that made it hard for me to put the book down. I expect to encounter more published works by this talented author and am looking forward to reading them. Skin in the Game: The Stories My Tattoos Tell is most highly recommended.
Skin in the Game: The Stories My Tattoos Tell by Kelly J. Mendenhall is a book about survival, the human connection, regrettable steps, and a journey towards self-acceptance, healing, and triumph. What strikes the reader as they start reading this memoir is the author’s love for tattoos and it is also interesting that each tattoo captures some fragment of her history. She writes: “I’m 36 as I write this and still haven’t grown out of wanting tattoos. Much to my mother’s chagrin, this is not a phase. I still love almost every piece as much as I did the day I had it done.” Her eclectic collection of tattoos is a representation of the events of her life which are captured in this memoir — losing her father as a young girl, experiencing sexual and physical abuse as a teenager, the loss of her friends, and many other events. Follow the author through the numerous challenges of her life, both physical and moral, and how at thirty-five she suffered a tragedy that compelled her to reinvent herself, a journey both painful and inspiring.
Kelly J. Mendenhall writes with grace and simplicity and in a voice that is clear, at times opinionated, yet gripping. She looks at her life with honesty, stripping it bare to let readers see her pain, her wounds, her insecurities, and her fears. The reader follows a young woman through her growth under very complex and challenging circumstances. Skin in the Game: The Stories My Tattoos Tell is punctuated by images of the tattoos on the author’s body. The narrative is filled with art and symbolism, done in a gripping voice, and communicating a powerful message of hope and resilience to readers. In reading Kelly’s story, readers will be provoked to ask questions about how well they take control of their destiny.
Kelly J Mendenhall’s Skin In The Game: The Stories My Tattoos Tell is a book that brings meaning and understanding to the tattooed pictography which now adorns Kelly’s body. Over the years, each tattoo she has acquired holds special meaning for her and relates closely to personal relationships, places, and experiences which have shaped Kelly’s life. Spending time in very rough neighborhoods, living through some abusive and extremely difficult times, Kelly has managed not only to survive but to grow as an individual in many ways. She has become a very well educated and balanced person with a bright future in spite of the many challenges thrown at her, and her journey to get there is what makes this book so captivating.
I found reading Skin In The Game: The Stories My Tattoos Tell a wonderful experience, which was in some ways a little surprising given that I am a generation older than Kelly. It made me realize many things, the foremost being that no matter what your generation is there is always commonality of experiences and life in general to bond us all together. I was particularly engaged by Kelly getting to know her father more in spite of him being long gone. This was an exercise I had gone through as well with my family. The simple truth is that there are just too many wonderful anecdotes to cover here, but that just means this is a very worthy work and well worth reading. You will enjoy the shared experience, and I thank Kelly for the bravery and strength of character she had to produce this book.
She is no Kat Von D, but Kelly J. Mendenhall is inked to the bone. Skin in the Game: The Stories My Tattoos Tell is an autobiography that chronicles Mendenhall’s life from the stories behind her skin art. From her first tattoo to her battle with a neuromuscular and spine disorder, each chapter offers a glimpse into the life of a survivor as she goes through different stages in her growing up years. We are invited to join in the tears and laughter as Mendenhall establishes vivid color and writes in an evolving voice congruent to her acquisition of wisdom and experience. She can be ribald if needs be, but she is also compassionate. She questions the integrity of foundations and establishments when they put people’s well-being to the test. Her occasional use of the F word can be justified and these are not placed just for kicks or as a badge that she belongs to a defiant generation.
Skin in the Game creates varying impressions for its reader. It first draws the audience to believe that Mendenhall is just another rebellious teenager who picked up a pen to share a story in the hopes of inspiring with a “girl power” battle cry. But her story as a whole offers something far deeper. Using her skin as a canvas, Mendenhall becomes a walking storybook where the colored strokes and lines on her epidermis are stamped memories of a past bravely faced. In an age where self-centered autobiographies become a form of self-promotion at the expense of the reader, this author establishes a good balance in her interaction between people and herself. Skin in the Game: The Stories My Tattoos Tell is a self-appraisal well worth considering.