Book Review: “Faceless” by Alyssa Sheinmel

Faceless by Alyssa Sheinmel chronicles sixteen-year-old Maisie’s journey to recovery after part of her face is destroyed in an electrical fire. Maisie’s burns are so bad that the tissue in her cheeks, nose, and chin actually died. Luckily (although Maisie won’t like it if you call her that – lucky girls don’t get their faces burned off), Maisie qualifies for a face transplant rather than having to face years of grafting surgery that may or may not work. But recovery after the surgery is so much harder than Maisie predicted; not only does she have to deal with the physical healing of her body, she also has to take about twenty pills three times a day and go back to school, where everyone remembers how she used to be before her accident. She can’t help but ask herself…is it all worth it?

Readers may be drawn to this novel out of curiosity for its unusual subject matter – most of us are only used to hearing about face transplants when they make the news every once and a while – but you’ll stay for Sheinmel’s excellent writing. Maisie is surrounded by a stand-out cast of supporting characters (my favorites are her boyfriend, Chirag, and her best friend, Serena) but the best aspect of the book is how thoroughly it explores Maisie’s emotions as she adjusts to her new face. It’s impossible for any of us to imagine what a tragedy like that would actually be like, but Sheinmel gives us a chance to hit a little closer to the truth than we might otherwise. Faceless doesn’t have a lot of action, or too much drama, really – its strength is in letting readers watch Maisie find herself again, and the pace of the book is gradual, just like her recovery.

The open-ended closing of this novel might just be my favorite thing about it. Of all the things Maisie has worked so hard for, regaining her sense of excitement and possibility for the future is probably the most important one. For so many months she idealized the past and questioned the point of her present, but the closing of the novel has her considering multiple options for college and realizing that she’ll still be herself with or without the same relationships she had before her accident. A slow-paced but rewarding read.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review.