Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing

Book review by
Patricia Tauzer, Common Sense Media
Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing Book Poster Image
Award-winning bio of bigger-than-life blues singer.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

This is a solid, sensitive exploration of Janis Joplin's life as well as an engaging look at the "flower power" rock & roll world of the '60s. In addition to writing text brimming with facts, the author includes photographs and posters, which add richness. A very thorough timeline, as well as quotes and references, add context and highlight the extensive research that went into this remarkable book. 

Positive Messages

By working hard, and sacrificing, Janis Joplin broke the mold and made her dream happen. Hers was not an easy road, and her journey took strength of character and conviction. That her life was complicated with drugs and alcohol and ended with an accidental drug overdose definitely is part of the tragedy.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Janis Joplin definitely abused drugs and alcohol and self-destructed in a way that is both sad and tragic, and not to be emulated.  However, she was also a free-thinker, a strong person who tried to break out of the mold her '50s Texan community tried to impress on her, and a blues singer who definitely influenced the role of women in music. She followed her dream to find a bigger world, and explored her art through painting and singing. She worked hard, and was honest and loving. Her family and friends always were important to her, and she was never far from any fight for civil rights, justice, and peace. 


Janis had a reputation for hanging out with a group of boys, and later has sexual relationship with different men and women. There is some discussion of one night stands and the era of "free love."  One photo pictures her entire band nude, though partially covered with a sheet, and in bed together.


In general, the text is tame except for actual quotes where Janis spews a few expletives.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Alcohol and drug use were part of the '60s rock and roll scene, and the book neither judges nor glamorizes them. Instead, it deals in facts: Janis used marijuana, heroin, LSD, beer, and Southern Comfort -- and in the end, the mixture is what killed her.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this award-winning biography of one of the most influential female rock stars of the '60s was based on letters and interviews with family and friends of Janis Joplin, as well as previous articles written about her. Drug experimentation and addiction are definitely part of the story, but they are neither glorified nor sentimentalized, and are definitely not the book's focus. What is emphasized here are the very human struggles of a young girl trying to break out of the constraints of living in Texas in the very traditional '50s, how she found her voice, and the toll her struggles took on her life. There are also mentions of sex and there's some occasional profanity.

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What's the story?

Janis Joplin began life as a shy little girl from a small town in Texas. She rebelled as a teenager, rose to rock stardom in the '60s, and died at 27, alone in a hotel room, of a heroin and alcohol overdose. Within the psychedelic covers of this biographical book, readers will find page after page of \ engaging and factual text scattered with poignant photographs that tell the whole story of this amazing blues singer. In some ways, her life was quite ordinary; she yearned for love, family, etc. But she was also a bigger-than-life star who rode the crest of the wave during the rock and roll revolution that also took the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison. Funky scrolls decorate the margins much like they did the posters of the' 60s, and a timeline and references at the end add more context.

Is it any good?

This biography not only traces the rise and fall of rock star Janis Joplin, but also gives a sensitive, though not overly sentimental, portrait of her personal life. The reader will understand why it won the 2011 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults. The reader is left with a real feeling for what life must have been like for her as she tried to break out of the mold, the highs and the lows, the fun, the joy, and the tragedy. In a story taken primarily from interviews with friends and family, as well as their letters to and from Joplin, this biography is well-documented, clearly-written, and meaty enough without being heavy-handed or too sentimental.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the way the author handles drug and alcohol use in this book. They are a part of Janis Joplin's story -- and tragically ended her life -- but they are neither glamorized nor demonized here. What do you think of that choice?

  • This book won the 2011 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults. Do you think it deserved this honor? Do you care if a book is award-winning or not? Do you think awards help the publisher sell more copies?

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