Faceless by Alyssa B. Sheinmel
- young adult / contemporary
- published on September 29th 2015
- paperback version 400 pages
- Goodreads / Amazon / The Book Depository
★★★★ 4 STARS
When Maisie is struck by lightning, her face is partially destroyed. She’s lucky enough to get a face transplant, but how do you live your life when you can’t even recognize yourself anymore? She was a runner, a girlfriend, a good student …a normal girl. Now, after a single freak accident, all that has changed. As Maisie discovers how much her looks did and didn’t shape her relationship to the world, she has to redefine her own identity, and figure out what ‘lucky’ really means.
Faceless has been big on the YA scene for a little while now but I only recently got round to picking it up. Maisie, a teenage girl just about to enter her senior year at high school, is burnt by an electrical fire whilst out on her morning jog; her face is beyond repair, destroyed beyond all comprehension. After waking from her month-long, medically induced coma she’s soon hit with the opportunity to get a face transplant; and she takes it. In every sense of the word, this book is about self acceptance and learning to love who you are.
If you hate books with exhausting lead ups to the action then this is for you. We were barely introduced to the ‘old Maisie’ – her life, her friends, and how things used to be – before the accident occurs and all that is stripped away from her. What was left was an altered face, but also a distorted personality; Maisie’s once perfect relationship with her boyfriend was now practically non-existent. She didn’t want him to touch her or even look at her and the ease with which they once communicated was shattered. Chirag quickly became much more of a carer than anything that resembled a partner and it was heartbreaking. The way their deteriorating relationship was portrayed really stuck with me throughout because you’d like to think, most probably, that a devoted loved one (they’d never said “I love you” aloud but it seemed to ring true anyway) would stick by you even if you got into a freak accident that resulted in a new chin, nose, and cheeks being ‘stuck’ onto your face. It’s a horrible reality for Maisie as she soon comes to learn that superficiality plays a role in how others perceive you, whether you like it or not.
“My mother wants me to be the kind of strong and special patient you read about in books, the kind who doesn’t get cranky even when she can barely move half her body, has lost her face to an electrical fire, and is in quite a lot of pain. Instead I’m the kind of person who says, ‘I think I’ve earned the right to be a little rude.'” – Chapter 9
One of the things I loved about the way Maisie was written is how believably so it was done. Even though her mother pushed her to be an inspirational spokesperson to her peers, she shied away from that. It wasn’t not who she was. She was moody and grumpy and depressive and, you know what, that was bloody well okay bearing in mind what she’d been through. Maisie made some truly horrifying decisions in the middle of the book but she came out the other side stronger because of it. She chose life, even when life handed her the sourest of lemons, and was strong in a way ‘strong female characters’ usually aren’t.
Another element I thought was important to the story was the relationship between Maisie and her parents, her mother in particular. Throughout we see their opposing ideas, clashing thoughts, and the emotional walls they put up against each other. Her mother wants what’s best for her daughter but Maisie finds it difficult to accept this whilst dealing with the overbearing amount of control her mum exercises over her life. It’s hard to think about the emotional strain it must be having on her mother when it all seems so concentrated on the horrors Maisie has suffered through herself but their whole entire family is deeply wounded by the accident and even more so by the repercussions. It is only by accepting what has happened to them and finding peace amongst that, that they can begin to move on.
If there were one thing I wish could be improved about this novel it would be an expansion upon the relationship between Maisie and Chirag. I felt like his side of the story, his thoughts and feelings, was severely lacking in this. It’s hard to empathise with him when we don’t know him entirely. There are definitely glimpses, some larger than others, but as an overall thing I think a big, meaningful heart to heart between the two would have really elevated the novel. Maybe that would have made it less realistic but, as a story, I think that’s what it needed.
“You have to learn to love yourself before you can love someone else. Because it’s only when we love ourselves that we feel worthy of someone else’s love.”
If you’re looking for a heart-warming, inspirational tale about how one teenage girl overcomes her adversity with a little help from memorable wall plaques then this isn’t for you. It’s not nearly as dark as it could’ve been, taking a lighter tone more akin to traditional YA contemporaries, but it doesn’t sugar-coat either. Sheinmel explores very realistically (as far as I can tell) the new world Maisie is thrust into and the horrors that come with it, which is why I awarded it 4 stars. I would recommend for its message of self-acceptance as, even though the style of writing isn’t anything that extraordinary, its meaningfulness is pure joy.