Face by Benjamin Zephaniah
Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018. ISBN 9781408894989
(Age: 12+) Recommended. Martin Turner is good looking, funny, and the leader of his Gang of Three, which also includes his mates Matthew and Mark. He also has a girlfriend, Natalie, who he has even kissed. The four kids make up the main characters in the story, who are all aged about 15. The author writes the characters' speech using a lot of colloquial language that was popular at the time, circa 1985, including homie, guy, man, as terms of endearment and poxy, geezer as insults. This aspect of the novel felt a little stereotypical and didn't add a lot to the storyline.
Martin and his friends are out late one night at a dance party. Here, the reader will learn a little about the under-age drug problems of East London in the 1980s. When offered drugs from over-age sellers, the three lads decide to leave and are offered a lift by an ex-school friend. Unbeknownst to them, the driver is high and out of his mind on heroin; the vehicle is stolen and soon they are pursued by the police. Martin and his friends are all involved in a high-speed crash and he wakes two days later in hospital, suffering deep partial thickness (3rd degree) burns to his face.
The novel then takes on a different aspect. The author, having done a lot of research, writes about burns recovery and Martin's experiences with facial reconstructive and skin grafting surgeries. The language used here is descriptive and well-written, particularly Martin waking up after the accident and eventually looking in a mirror.
Martin's return to everyday life is well documented by the author. Martin works through his feelings of aggression with the help of a clinical psychologist, Alan. Martin begins to understand the idea of everyone managing grief and loss differently, despite the unfailing support of his family. His former friends withdraw; Mark leaves the gang to form a new one where he is the leader; Natalie, now seems vain and self-obsessed.
Most refreshingly, the author has found a way to write about discrimination that is outside of the norms. Martin learns to respond to tormentors and bullies by being honest - I'm still me / I'm not disabled / I can still do everything I did before. He rekindles his passions and interests and makes new friends who don't see him for the facial disfigurement. Readers will enjoy and celebrate as Martin finds his confidence and identity post-accident.
While I would recommend this novel for readers in secondary school, the content is appropriate for capable readers who are younger - 12/13 years.