Alyssa Sheinmel’s novel Faceless does a remarkable job of portraying the psychological problems involved in the aftermath of a traumatic accident. The protagonist, high school senior Maisie Winters, is out for a run when she nearly dies in an electrical fire. She sustains second-degree burns across her left side, and her face is partially destroyed. To try to help her live a normal life, the doctors perform a face transplant on her. But when Maisie is released from the hospital, she has trouble adjusting to seeing a new face in the mirror.
Maisie’s new face, new attitude, and (because of her immunosuppressive drugs), new personality, alienate her friends, boyfriend, parents, and even herself. Despite all of the physical consequences of her accident, it is the emotional and social consequences that Sheinmel focuses on most, which gives the story an interesting angle.
Being a teenager, Maisie isn’t as concerned about whether she will be healthy eventually, or be able to function normally. Instead, some of her first concerns are whether or not she will be pretty, or whether she will be able to get a boyfriend, or new friends, whether she’ll be able to run as fast as she did when she was on the track team. She avoids reflective surfaces and despises the immunosuppressive drugs she has to take for making her weak and tired, even though they are saving her life.
Faceless shows readers the damage that traumatic accidents can do to one’s psyche—in particular, how bittersweet it feels to be the recipient of a life-changing transplant, and how it feels to lose a part of yourself. Maisie, when in the hospital thinking about whether or not she wants a face transplant, says, “I never thought there was such a thing as a list of names, people waiting for new faces. People waiting for someone else to die.”
Once she gets home from the hospital, she has nightmares that make her wake up screaming and crying; but she dreams of her donor’s accident, not her own. She worries about being “a living, breathing ghost,” worries that her donor’s family will see her “walking around with a dead person’s face.”
In Faceless, Sheinmel asks how much of yourself can you lose while still being the same person you were before? What makes you you, your body or your soul, and how can the physical alteration of your body complicate these matters?
Faceless by Alyssa Sheinmel. Scholastic Press, 2020. Buy the book here and help support Stone Soup in the process!