Clever, funny and pretty Maisie has everything going for her; a wonderful best friend, a kind and loving boyfriend and a place on the school running team. So when she wakes up in hospital after a freak lightning strike accident, to discover she has suffered 3rd degree burns and her face has been partially destroyed, she has to find a way of coming to terms with the terrifying reality that her life will never be the same again. She is constantly told how lucky she is to be offered a face transplant but she doesn’t yet feel lucky wearing the unfamiliar cheeks, nose and chin of a stranger.
Back at school Maisie has to deal with the knowledge that her school fellows see her as a freak and her boyfriend won’t break up with her even though he wants to as he is too kind. Maisie passes through anger and despair as she fights to regain a sense of self – a different self. Not only does she have to face the tough physical recovery but the unexpected psychological turmoil she finds herself in. At one point she stops taking her pills in an attempt to regain some control over her life. She finally embraces life again when she is persuaded to join a support group and meets other disfigured adults who accept her for who she is now. She breaks off her relationship with Chirag and decides to apply for a college place thousands of miles away where no-one will know of her previous life and she can make a new start although she is also still considering her original plan of going to Berkeley as she had promised her friend Serena they would go together. Maisie even tentatively begins to run again encouraged by Adam, a war survivor from the support group.
The first person narrative drives this emotional journey. Told in four sections charting the course of the year during her gradual recovery we root for Maisie as with determination and a good deal of wit she gradually comes to an acceptance of her new face and persona.
There is a lot of detail about face transplants and all the possible dangers and hidden traumas carefully worked into the story. It is a compelling and insightful read but I can’t help feeling it is a touch too even handed in places.