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The Face Mass Market Paperback – November 1, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Compelling characterization is the driving force behind this enthralling story of hope. Born without facial features due to Treacher Collins syndrome, declared legally dead and signed over to a secret CIA program as an infant, 20-year-old Sarah Sims has spent her entire life hidden from the mainstream world. Her only distractions are her work as a computer espionage expert and a steady diet of classic movies until her aunt, Renee, discovers Sarah is still alive, providing her first chance to explore a life outside her physical and emotional seclusion. Hunt (The Elevator) fuels the completely engrossing story with dual present-tense narration by the two women. Readers are drawn into their lives, sharing their joy and fear as they approach a fulfilling and surprising climax. A touch of suspense adds to the powerful themes of second chances and new beginnings. (Nov.)
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About the Author
With nearly four million copies of her books sold worldwide, Angela Hunt is the bestselling author of more than one hundred books, including The Tale of Three Trees, Don’t Bet Against Me, The Note, and The Nativity Story. Hunt is one of the most sought-after collaborators in the publishing industry. Her nonfiction book Don’t Bet Against Me, written with Deanna Favre, spent several weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Angela’s novel The Note (with sales of over 141,000) was filmed as the Hallmark Channel’s Christmas movie for 2007 and proved to be the highest rated television movie in the channel’s history. She often travels to teach writing workshops at schools and writers’ conferences, and she served as the keynote speaker at the 2008 American Christian Fiction Writers’ national conference. She and her husband make their home in Florida with mastiffs. In 2001, one of her dogs was featured on Live with Regis and Kelly as the second-largest dog in America.
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I was immediately drawn to this novel, even though I'm not a thriller fan. Sarah's unique situation, plot arc, and character carried the story for me. Sarah's not a victim, nor is she a stereotypically odd person who finds everything about the world mystifying and scary. Instead, she's gotten to know the world through movies. The first thing she wants to do when she sees it for herself is eat a McDonald's hamburger. She thinks she likes her aunt but is cagey about their relationship. In other words, Sarah is real, refreshingly so for a character of her ilk in Christian fiction (usually, characters with conditions and disabilities are painted as incorruptibly pure inspirations and little else).
Speaking of Christian fiction, there are elements of that sub-type in The Face, but they are extremely subtle. If you've been reading the genre long enough, you can probably tell that Renee and perhaps Sarah have some measure of faith in Christ, but they aren't vocal about Him. They don't use platitudes. They don't shy away from having hard conversations the way some Christian characters might. They don't even engage in "normal Christian activity" such as going to church or reading the Bible. But Sarah and Renee come to love each other deeply. They sacrifice for each other. They rely on divine help just to get them through a new and frightening part of their lives. It's a bit disconcerting if you're used to more overt faith, but at the same time, it's a nice change.
The Face's secondary characters are highly enjoyable, especially Renee and Dr. Mewton. These women are huge parts of Sarah's life, but fulfill different roles and have almost diametrically opposed ideas as to what Sarah needs. For instance, there's a lot of tension built up because Sarah often feels Renee is trying to "fix" her or give her experiences she's not ready for. Dr. Mewton, for her part, outright uses Sarah either as a brilliant analyst or a science experiment. One of my favorite conflict arcs occurs when Renee debates over whether Sarah should be given pleasant memories via new technology. Sarah's only memories are of surgeries and doctors, so why shouldn't she remember something like Christmas, or eating a Popsicle at the beach, even if those memories aren't technically hers? Then again, is that even ethical? I love that kind of moral fulcrum and the characters who make it real.
I did get a little confused when reading through the CIA and technological stuff, and some of that seemed to drag because I was so invested in Sarah and Renee as people, as well as their journeys. I also had some nit-picking issues such as Dr. Mewton's name; she sounds like something out of Pokémon, honestly. But overall, The Face is a highly unique book and one I definitely recommend to Christian and non-Christian readers. In particular, check it out if you or a young loved one enjoyed R.J. Palacio's Wonder.
My feelings about the book swung back and forth as I read it. The book got off to a slow and difficult start - for the first 100 pages or so Sarah and the others at the top-secret CIA "convent" came across like unfeeling automatons rather than real human beings. However, I kept reading, and once Sarah's aunt Renee came on the scene things improved slightly. And as the story unfolded I understood why Hunt had depicted Sarah as an almost-robot in the beginning; her lack of emotion was supposedly an effect of her severe facial disfigurement.
In the middle of the book Hunt introduced a couple of other aspects of the story that served to distract from what I felt was supposed to be the main premise of the book. Just as Sarah was preparing to have a major, life-altering surgery that would give her a new face, she suddenly decided to try and find out what had actually happened to her father. At the same time, she continued to be heavily preoccupied with her work for the CIA (which was completely over-the-top in my opinion; more about that below). The way Hunt jumped between these three story lines felt erratic, and the way Sarah's impending surgery got pushed to the back burner when it should have been the focal point of the story didn't make sense or feel right to me.
In the conclusion of the book -- which I don't want to give away -- Hunt weaves together all three of these elements and I then understood why they had all been necessary. However, I still felt that her coverage of Sarah's surgery, which could have and should have been deep and emotional, was instead shallow and off-hand. Hunt's conclusion to the story was a bit sweet and sad, but it somehow lacked any emotional depth.
I think my disappointment with this book was due to my own expectations; I was expecting an emotional story about a young girl who is born with a severe disfigurement, and who goes through a life-changing surgery. Instead, the book was more of a mild action/thriller story about a young girl at a top-secret CIA facility, who just happened to have a severe facial disfigurement and who, oh, by the way, had cutting-edge surgery to give her a new face. I really wanted to feel empathy for Sarah, but I wasn't allowed to; Hunt just skimmed the emotional surface of the story and never tapped any deeper.
Aside from the book being a different kind of story than I expected, my other major dissatisfaction with it was Sarah's role in the CIA. That she was adopted as an orphan by the CIA and raised at their top-secret facility on an island off the coast of Spain (in her 21 years she had never left the island until her aunt showed up) was indeed far-fetched, but I was willing to buy it for the sake of an entertaining and interesting story. But that Sarah, who had no formal public education, and at only age 21, could be a top-level CIA employee, an absolute computer genius at a PhD level (or beyond), using language that probably Bill Gates couldn't even understand, strained credibility to beyond the breaking point. I couldn't suspend my expectation of realism to reach that far; as a consequence, the story never gained traction with me. Every time Sarah started spouting technical gibberish, I rolled my eyes mentally, as it were, thinking "oh, puleeez ......."
This book failed my bookshelf test (not a keeper) and I won't be buying any of Angela Hunt's other contemporary novels. I will wait for her next historical, however long that may be; she does much better with those.
Sarah was born cruelly disfigured by a disease called Treacher Collins syndrome. This causes all kinds of issues with the head. Sarah was one of the worst cases, it was as if someone had erased all her facial features. Both her parents died shortly after her birth and it was believed she had no other relatives. Because her father was employed by the CIA she was taken to a secret CIA facility that did high level electronic surveillance. It also housed a state-of-the-art medical facility where undercover agents were treated when wounded and had their appearance altered when necessary. We join Sarah at age 20. I don't want to write anything that will spoil your read.
This book has one of the best unexpected twists toward the end of the story. I think I actually stopped reading I was so surprised and then I couldn't read fast enough to find out what happened. If you've never read Angela Hunt this would be a great place to start. The ebook on Amazon.com is only $2.49. Definitely worth the price!