We're Talkin' Books Here!
The view beyond the maskBy HOLLY ATKINS
Published May 10, 2004
When a car accident leaves young Kelley Brennan's face and body burned, she must learn to deal with much more than most girls her age - including how to accept wearing a mask over her face for a full year.
Leslie, a nurse in the burn unit and friend to Kelley, assures her that what people will notice is "a face first, then a mask." But Kelley can't bear to look at her own face - how could she let others? All the book clubbers agreed that Priscilla Cummings' A Face First is a very "intense" book, but one filled with a beautiful message about the healing power of love and friendship.
MRS. ATKINS: Okay, so you all said you liked the book.
THERESA: I read it really, really quickly. I kept reading because I just had to find out what was going to happen to Kelley.
DAREN: The beginning of the book was very intense. It was filled with images and sounds that floated in and out as Kelley went in and out of consciousness right after the car accident when she was at the hospital.
THERESA: Her thoughts, then what people were saying - the author went back and forth. That was great writing.
MRS. ATKINS: I think that was really important, too. That way we, as readers, got the chance to feel we were part of Kelley. It helped us connect with her. Priscilla Cummings' writing was so powerful and realistic. I wonder how you could write about an experience like this without ever having gone through it yourself.
ALLY: That's what I was wondering. The author wasn't in an accident like this, was she?
MRS. ATKINS: I don't know, but there's one line in the acknowledgments page where the author writes: Kathleen, we met briefly, many years ago. You were a nurse then, remembering for me, and I have never forgotten.
MARISSA: The author's bio page at the end of the book mentions that she "first came to understand the enormous courage that burn victims and their caregivers must develop while she was researching a story."
ALEXA: I don't think it was based just on the accident, but also how a girl thinks - like, what she looks like. That's something someone knows. You don't really need to research that. In the book it talks about what people notice first; I like how Kelley kept going back to that.
MRS. ATKINS: Yeah, that line wasn't just the title of the book, but seems to sum up the theme of it, too. Leslie, her nurse, told her that what people will notice is "a face first, then a mask." What do you think she meant by that?
THERESA: I think Leslie was trying to say that even though Kelley was wearing that mask so she wouldn't get scars after the plastic surgery, that people would see past it - deeper, down to her personality.
DAREN: Well after I read that, I started looking at the picture on the cover. It doesn't look like her real face - it looks like a mask. I didn't notice that until after that line was stated in the book.
MARISSA: Yeah, I kept staring at it after Leslie said that line, too. I thought at first that it was a real face, but then I thought how part of it was too white and shiny.
MRS. ATKINS: I think, too, that Leslie was trying to tell her that it wasn't her physical features she needed to think about - it was her bringing out her unique personality.
ALEXA: It was important how Leslie told Kelley that her friends weren't just going to stop being her friends.
MARISSA: Kelley was really worried about that.
ALEXA: I also liked the part where she didn't want to go to school because she thought no one would care about her anymore. I liked how everyone was trying to get through to her about that, and at the end - they did.
MRS. ATKINS: I like how Alexa talked about knowing how girls think. One part I thought was really powerful, and I don't think it's isolated to just girls, is when Leslie brings Kelley a magazine - maybe it was Seventeen or something like that. Remember when Kelley opens it up and starts flipping through it?
MARISSA: All the advertisements (were) about products that'll "make your face perfect." She was kind of embarrassed at how focused she used to be on every little blemish on her face.
ALEXA: I also liked the part where Kelley had to draw all the time to keep her fingers from going stiff where the doctors grafted the new skin. Then later she thinks to herself, "I wonder if they notice how none of the people I draw have faces." That was so sad.
THERESA: I think that with Kelley, if it wasn't for the whole thing with her face, she wouldn't have looked deep inside herself and found out that she wanted to be an artist. The accident helped her discover what her dream was.
ALEXA: Being an artist kind of saved her and saved her arm - she needed to keep it moving.
MRS. ATKINS: I like how you point out the role art played in "saving" Kelley in two different meanings of the word. Kind of interesting, too, because art depends on visual images. Kelley had to learn to see things differently - to not just look at the surface.
ALLY: One of my favorite characters was Kelley's sister, Leah.
MARISSA: She brought the best out in Kelley because Kelley really liked her and looked up to her.
ALEXA: Without Leah, Kelley would have still been in "the box." She withdrew from everyone, and kept hidden from everyone. She didn't even want to go outside. It was Leah who took her out to the museum.
ALLY: I think Kelley really needed her sister. She couldn't connect that way with her mom - especially since she was the one who caused the accident.
MRS. ATKINS: So what did you all think about the ending? Was it realistic?
THERESA: I think it was realistic. A true friend, like the boy she liked, Daniel, would see a face first and not care about the mask.
ALEXA: I thought it was pretty realistic because of the mother-daughter fight thing. I also like the way Kelley ended it by telling her mom, "You didn't ruin my life," because the mother felt so much guilt - and told Kelley that she had ruined Kelley's life by running the red light.
MRS. ATKINS: This story will continue far past the final page of this book. What's going to happen to Kelley when she goes back to school in the fall?
MARISSA: I think people will accept her, but it might take a long time.
DAREN: Yeah, but it's going to be weird. There will be a lot of questions - that'll bring back those painful pictures in her head again.
ALEXA: I think people will say things like, "Oh my gosh! I'm so sorry about what happened to you." She doesn't want people to feel sorry for her, though.
ALLY: Leslie came to the school though, right? So maybe the kids will be sort of prepared for Kelley's mask, and the way she'll look.
THERESA: Kelley has changed in other ways since the accident. She accepts herself a little more. She found a new dream - to be an artist. She probably realized that if she wanted to follow that dream she couldn't just keep that bottled up inside.
MRS. ATKINS: Okay, let's shift gears a bit. This is our last meeting. Can you remember back to our first meeting of the year? Way back to Hoot. Could you point to one book that we've read that was your favorite?
THERESA: Which one had the orphans in it? Oh yeah, Ruby Holler. I liked that one.
ALEXA: I liked this one, and Three Days, and - what was the one about the ship? Oh yeah, Playing for Keeps.
ALLY: Touching Spirit Bear was my favorite. I thought that story was good because in that book and this one, the main characters were going through so many changes and trying to find out who they really were - they both had a lot of problems in their lives. And that makes it interesting because you want to see them change for the better.
DAREN: I'd have to vote for this book, or Three Days. I have to have some kind of action in the book - or a mystery that makes me want to keep reading the book.
MRS. ATKINS: When you think back over our year of reading, we've read a big variety of books. This has been a lot of fun. Thanks for another great year.
- The grades 6-8 book club includes Nathaniel DiMura, Jocelyn Howard, Theresa Linnert, Daren Miller, Ally Sikora, Marissa Standfast and Alexa Volland. Holly Atkins teaches seventh-grade language arts at Southside Fundamental Middle School in St. Petersburg.[Last modified May 7, 2004, 14:29:13]
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