CM . . .
. Volume XXIV Number 39. . . .June 8, 2018
The Story of My Face.
Toronto, ON: Second Story Press, Sept. 10, 2018.
228 pp., trade pbk. & HTML, $13.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-77260-070-4 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-77260-073-5 (HTML).
Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.
Review by Ann Ketcheson.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
“I knock on her open office door.
“Well, look what the cat dragged in,” she says. I have a quick flash of the bear’s jaws around my head, dragging me down the path. A shiver shoots through my body. Schultzy takes off her glasses, lets them dangle on the silver chain around her neck. “How are you?”
“Okay, I guess.” I’m suddenly weak and quivery.
She eyes me carefully. “If I were in your shoes, I’d be scared to death coming back to school.”
“If anyone gives you trouble, come and see me, you hear?”
As if. I’m already low on friends and nobody likes a snitch.
“Still in pain?” she asks.
“My leg still gives me trouble.” I touch the left side of my face. “But here, I just have a constant ache.”
“I have to tell you, Abby, I’m so impressed with how you’ve handled this trauma. It would be a tall order for anyone to live through, but you’re come this far with maturity and grace.”
“Thanks.” But neither she nor anyone else for that matter has any idea what’s really going on with me. I have my own kind of crazy that I hide from everyone.
“Have a seat.” Schultzy puts her glasses back on and rummages through files on her desk until she finds mine. She flips through it. “Considering you missed all of last semester and several weeks of this one, you’re at least, well, holding your own. Let’s see your marks in the online courses you completed in the fall. Social studies and English marks are good, math mark is okay.” She peers up at me over her glasses. “What are you taking this semester?”
“Biology – only because I need a science credit – phys ed, and drama.”
Schultzy pushes her glasses up on her nose as she flips through my file. “Pretty light term you’ve got.”
“I finished all my required courses online. The Internet is a beautiful thing.”
“Lots going on in the drama department this term.”
“I’m not exactly lead-role material anymore.” The words come out shaky, and I sound pitiful.
“Have you applied to any college or university theater-arts programs yet?”
I shake my head. “Plans have changed.”
“Abby, you have heaps of talent. Don’t let anything get in the way of your dream of becoming an actor. And I mean anything.” She stares at me for an uncomfortably long time. “Promise me.”
“Okay,” I say, but it’s a promise I can’t keep. When I first saw myself in the mirror after the bandages were unraveled from my face, I knew that unless I was auditioning for The Elephant Man, all my dreams for the future had come crashing down.”
Just before beginning her final year of high school, Abby Hughes is attacked by a grizzly bear in the Rocky Mountains. Her return to school is emotional since the scars, particularly on her face, make Abby self-conscious and insecure. She also has to deal with the reactions of people around her. Girls who once were her friends are now unfriendly and downright mean to her. Liam, her former boyfriend, apparently can’t stand to be anywhere near her. And Mason and his buddies delight in teasing and tormenting her. While Abby would love to return to the school drama club and her budding acting career, she isn’t sure that she can overcome her physical and emotional traumas and move forward.
Leanne Baugh gives her young adult audience an exceptional protagonist in Abby. Readers sympathize with her and understand a sort of self-loathing at times in the story. The scars that have transformed her face into someone she barely recognizes have also seemingly transformed her personality. Abby lacks the confidence and assurance she once had. Fortunately, she is a strong young woman who realizes that she must accept what cannot be changed, and this prompts her to seek help in dealing with accepting herself. If she wants other people to see beyond the superficial image of a scarred face, then she has to begin to believe in herself and love herself once again – scars and all.
While some of the supporting characters are unlikable in much of the novel, readers come to realize that their reactions to Abby and their difficulty in accepting her mirror their own personal issues. One friend is being pressured to lose weight despite being slim and healthy. Another has become a bully, and only late in the story do readers realize that his home life is largely responsible. Abby’s boyfriend, Liam, rejects her not because of anything Abby has done but because of his perceived lack of courage when he most needed it. Readers see that he is angry with himself rather than with her. All of Abby’s friends are interesting characters in themselves. Some are steadfast and supportive throughout while others, as mentioned above, are so focused on their own problems that they have little time left over to care for and encourage their friend.
The theme of self-acceptance is the backbone of The Story of My Face, both for Abby and the teen characters as well as her father and other adults in the book. Abby changes and grows in the story, showing a more mature teen by the end of the book. The author does not make Abby some kind of saint. Indeed, Abby becomes frustrated with herself and continually belittles herself before realizing the harm she is inflicting. As she gradually learns to accept herself, including her obvious physical flaws, she learns to have more compassion for the people around her as well. She becomes more confident and is ready to embrace life after high school with enthusiasm.
As Abby, herself, says in the final pages of the book, “I turn the rearview mirror toward me and look closely at my face. I smile my weird, wonderful, crooked smile. And for the first time in a very long while, I can see the real me reflecting back I like what I see” (p. 220). It has taken Abby a long time and many twists and turns to come this far in her journey.
Whether our perceived flaws are in our physical make-up, in our personality or in our measure of our achievements, we who read The Story of My Face will realize that it unlikely we will ever be perfect or will live up to inflated expectations of ourselves or others. Like Abby, we should all show ourselves and one another a little more love.
Ann Ketcheson, a retired teacher-librarian and teacher of high school English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.
© CM Association
University of Manitoba
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