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Why’d a nice girl like you go and get a tattoo?

The unarticulated question running through Chick Lit: 40 Stories of Tattoos and the Women Who Wear Them: “Why’d a nice girl like you go and get a tattoo?” Thankfully, not one of the essayists replied, “What’s it to ya?”

Unfortunately, most of the essays aren’t much more than the perfunctory, “here’s why I got my tattoo.” But ten transcend banality to tell powerful, inspirational, sometimes touching stories. In these essays, the tattoo becomes a vehicle through which journeys of personal growth and transformed relationships are revealed. Surprisingly, few are stories of women in outright rebellion against their parents.

In some – “Going Wild,” “Happy Birthday to Me,” “Grandma Led the Way” – the tattoo becomes a celebratory rite of passage. Others, “My Angel” and “Brothers in Arms,” consider mothers and their tattoos – and their children. I’d be lying if I said the grandmother in “The Secret Tulip” reminded me of either of my grandmothers – but I can wish. “A Long Time Coming” is a thoughtful consideration of how one woman came to the decision to get a tattoo. In “My Life as a Suit,” an intern’s tattoos help adjust the attitudes of her co-workers. As for “Jie Mie” and “Pawprints on My Heart,” all I can say is prepare to have your heart broken.

I choose this book as part of my Red Room Housewarming Party prize, so I had read the reviews on Amazon. A couple complained about the lack of photographs. I actually think the best of the stories are more powerful without pictures. But what I did find lacking was the voice and presence of the editor. Red Room author, Karen L. Hudson, contributed no essay that told the story of her relationship to ink. There were brief bios of twenty “Famous Inked Chicks” throughout the text and there was an appendix of FAQ about tattoos. But the introduction was cursory – barely a page; no historical context, no organizing structure – nothing that would have made the collection greater than the sum of its parts. That said, Chick Ink is absolutely worth reading; after you do, you will never look at a tattooed woman without wondering, “What’s the story behind her tattoo(s)?”