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Your Face in Mine: A Novel Hardcover – August 14, 2014

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Jess Row has written a fearless, ambitious, unforgettable novel that reads like a postcard from the near-future to our present moment: what if the commodification of identity spawned a new kind of lie? A wave of racial metamorphoses—a surgically-enabled denial of history? Row's premise is ingenious, but his execution is even better. He's created a thriller with a human core, powered by guilt, rage, self-loathing, traitorous longing, the claustrophobia of a single life, and the perilous fantasy of escape, rebirth. Row is unafraid to ask the hardest questions about what his hungry, homesick, vastly malleable characters are, at every level, and what binds them to one another.”
—Karen Russell, author of Vampires in the Lemon Grove and Swamplandia

"Anchored by a Swiftian fantasy of racial reassignment surgery, which takes its questing hero from the housing projects of Baltimore to the back streets of Bangkok, Jess Row's Your Face in Mine is one of the most slyly penetrating novels on race and identity politics I've ever had the pleasure of reading."
—Richard Price

“A moving, compelling examination of love, loss, and humanity. In our time, when race is the most charged, complex (and perhaps most important) subject available for an American writer to take on, it is incredibly rare to encounter a book written by a white man that engages thoroughly, thoughtfully, and thrillingly with that very subject. This is a necessary book.”
—Martha Southgate, author of The Taste of Salt and Third Girl from the Left

"A white writer tackling race and class this honestly, this fearlessly? Talk about a rarity. So it's a relief that Jess Row is also one of the smartest, most observant contemporary writers around. This novel reads like Studs Terkel and Philip K. Dick decided to collaborate. It’s beautiful and painful, often at the same time."
—Victor LaValle, author of The Devil in Silver

"This book is adult in its weight and complexity, and formidable in its thoughtfulness... [Row] doesn’t shy away from the hard intellectual and moral questions his story raises, or from grainy philosophical dialogue, but he submerges these things in a narrative that burns with a steady flame. You turn the pages without being aware you are turning them.
—The New York Times

“Jess Row sees the future in Your Face in Mine—a provocative and exhilaratingly bold examination of race in America, where a white Jewish guy who feels black can undergo racial reassignment surgery.”
—Elissa Schappell in Vanity Fair


“Furiously smart…takes readers on a zesty, twisty, sometimes uncomfortable ride.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Row has outdone himself in a first novel that offers great quantities of food for thought and discussion.”
Booklist (starred review)

“Imaginative...This will appeal especially to those who love literary fiction with a thriller’s edge.”
Library Journal (starred review) 

"The premise is headline-catching, but the subtlety and grace with which Row tells the story is even more remarkable….We book reviewers are fond of calling books ‘brave,’ but Your Face in Mine is genuinely courageous.”
—NPR
 
“Race is a charged subject few white male writers would dare take on, and yet Row does so with a captivating premise, brilliantly executed. Your Face in Mine is, above all, brave and thought-provoking.” 
Bustle
 
“They say that people change, but in the case of Kelly’s close high school friend whom he hasn’t seen in nearly two decades, it’s the type of change nobody would have seen coming. Row’s tale is one that people will be discussing, and it demonstrates why he is one of the most innovative storytellers out there.”
—Flavorwire

"An imaginative and thought-provoking first novel.”
—BookPage
 
“A thought-provoking exploration of identity and the ways it is both formed by the self and projected into the world.”
—AskMen
 
 

About the Author

Jess Row is the author of the story collections The Train to Lo Wu and Nobody Ever Gets Lost. Named one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists in 2007, he has won two Pushcart Prizes and a PEN/O. Henry Prize, and has appeared in The Best American Short Stories three times. He lives in New York and teaches at the College of New Jersey.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books (August 14, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594488347
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594488344
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #257,056 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 34 people found the following review helpful By R. Murphy VINE VOICE on June 30, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was in love with this book for the first 150 pages. Jess Row has a beautifully deft hand with characters, and our narrator, Kelly, was heartbreakingly rendered. His relationship with Martin, who is his former high school friend who has used a new surgery to transition from white Jewish to black, was absolutely fascinating. The setup that Kelly is helping Martin package himself and his transition to expose it to the world (to become the Christine Jorgensen of the racial transition) – he is listening to Martin’s story and experiences and writing the book that will accompany Martin’s planned media campaign. But at the same time that Kelly is trying to figure out his friend, he’s also immersed in Martin’s new life – his friends, his church, and most importantly his wife and daughters, none of whom know that Martin has only been black for nine years.

The setup to this book was amazing, I loved the characterization of Kelly and Martin as well as the secondary characters, and I was really on the edge of my seat waiting for the plot to hit the high gear moments – how would Robin react when she discovered that her husband was born white? How would the daughters react? How would the city of Baltimore react when one of their favored black sons was revealed? How would AMERICA react?

But that actually never happens. The book stays in Baltimore, with Kelly following Martin around, for about a hundred pages longer than I expected.
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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Herschel Greenberg VINE VOICE on May 10, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a hard book to review. I liked some of it, but not all of it. I’ll explain:

The description on the back of the book sounds riveting. Martin, a white Jewish kid, goes through racial reassignment surgery, which turns him into a black man. Kelly, his friend from high school, runs into Martin in Baltimore. The idea of racial identity and “passing” sound like an excellent theme for a novel, especially where one character completely changes his look in order to become a different race (Martin claims he was born into the wrong ethnicity).

The book is narrated by Kelly, and the author chooses to write the book in the post-modern style, which disregards the need for quotes and dialogue markers (and a style I generally do not enjoy). Kelly also lost his wife and child, so he comes with baggage. As a narrator, I am not sure how reliable he is. This is the first reason I did not like the book—the most interesting character, which is Martin and his race change, is also the least known, since the book is so focused on Kelly.

Large chunks of these chapters exclude Martin; in fact, all I wanted to know was more about Martin. His motivation, desires, and changes are fascinating, and yet Kelly is not with him most of the time, so we do not get to see things from Martin’s eyes. Part 1 is really about Kelly, and I did not enjoy most of these chapters. Random characters come and go, and Kelly’s doings around Baltimore seemed irrelevant to me. They dealt with neither race, nor passing, nor identity, and I felt the description on the back of the book mislead me.

Part 2 gets to the heart of the story, and Martin and Kelly interact far more than Part 1. I enjoyed this section of the book, since it dealt with casual relations between the self and racial identity.
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14 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Neal Reynolds VINE VOICE on July 26, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This starts out well. However, the reader does have to adjust to the lack of quotation marks and it takes concentration to keep track of who's saying what. I think it a shame that so many of today's writers are trying these quirky innovations instead of just concentrating on telling the story in the most entertaining and easy-to-read manner. Jess Row proves his writing skill in this book and he doesn't need gimmicks. I hope he discovers that.

The subject is an important one. Unfortunately, Row introduces complications that weaken the impact that the idea of a Caucasian deliberately trying to appear African-American may have. The more we learn about Martin the less inclined we are to like him.

I realize that a two star rating might scare potential readers away. I was all set to give this a rave review when I'd read around 150 pages, but then the story started changing downwards and I can not in all conscience recommend this. Hopefully, the author will be back and give us a more positive book.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on October 8, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I had no problems with Row's innovative use of grammar in the novel. But as we can tell, a lot of lazy weekend-readers want a standardized presentation, much like their standardized lifestyles. This book is brilliant, and a classic, in my opinion. You have to wonder why critics of the book want a happy ending to the novels that they read, which is absurd for Martin--a man that has had a futuristic surgical experiment that changes his entire racial identity. This entire novel is an experiment with race ideas that few authors would dare challenge, and yet, the ending of the book was just not "up to par" in the happy endings department. This book is a breath of fresh air and it has an authentic quality that dares to address issues related to Jewish ethnicity (of the European variety), African American identity, and complicated issues that can be spelled out to the whims of the reader at every turn. If you want "simple", "conventional", and "cookie cutter", this novel is not for you! Come on now, we need more writers that challenge conventions and get support for their efforts. Americans have become complacent and Ross is not one of those Americans. As with every novelist, of course there are weakness in plot, dialogue, and characterization, but some folks just can't see the forest for the trees! Surgical surgery to change race? Fantastic. I'll PASS on the half-basked grammarian criticism and pseudo-literati claptrap on "plot" and "dialogue" for Ross's important themes on race, futurism, and the dismal effects of capitalism in 21st century society.
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