Saturday, February 18, 2017

Book Review : MAKING FACES by Amy Harmon


What a beautiful story of two people with UGS ( Ugly Girl/Guy Syndrome)
Ambrose Young is a Master of His Small Universe of Hannah Lake . He's beautiful, powerful, star athlete, popular and a bright future 

" Ambrose Young was absolutely beautiful, a Greek god among mortals, the stuff of fairy tales and movie screens. Unlike the other boys, he wore his dark hair in waves that brushed his shoulders, occasionally sweeping it back so it wouldn’t fall into his heavily-lashed brown eyes. The squared-off edge of his sculpted jaw kept him from being too pretty, that and the fact he was six foot three in his socks, weighed a strapping 215 pounds by the age of eighteen, and had a body corded with muscle from his shoulders to his well-shaped calves."

And as much as all the kids loved him, standing in the sidelines , watching from the stands are two people Ambrose would never even notice in the throng.

"There's Fern Taylor - Small and pale, with bright-red hair and forgettable features, Fern knew she was the kind of girl who was easily overlooked, easily ignored, and never dreamed about. She had floated through childhood without drama and with little fanfare, grounded in a perfect awareness of her own mediocrity."

She suffers from the usual teenage pains. Braces, freckles, curly red wayward hair , plain face and invisibility. She crushes hard on Ambrose and he doesn't even know she exists. She writes beautiful , funny love notes to him , hiding behind her friends persona of Rita. They have this funny , Literary chemistry which pulls them together and based on her verbiage alone, Ambrose is pulled towards her 

"The worst part was that every word had been real. Every word had been the truth. But she’d written the letters as if she had a face like Rita’s and a body like hers too, like she was a woman who could woo a man with her figure and her smile and back it up with a brain to match. And that part was a lie. She was small and homely. Ugly. Ambrose would feel like a fool for the words he’d given her. His words had been words for a beautiful girl. Not Fern."

And then there's Bailey . Beautiful , Bailey Sheen . He's coach Mike Sheen's son , suffering from debilitating Duchenne muscular dystrophy. His limbs don't work. He's fascinated by history and immortal, mythical heroes of ancient times . King Arthur, Zues , Hercules even modern ones like spiderman and superman ! 
The solid bond he shares with Fern is his source of strength. They're equal partners in shared love , laughter and tears . 
She's his guardian Angel , His Tender Mercy , he's her voice of reason, more often than not propping her self worth and self belief .
What I loved at this point of the story was it's purity of thought. Bailey is as pure as they come, when his body fails him, his heart and brain shine. He strives to be as helpful as he can be to his dad, keeping scores, stats in his mind during wrestling.
He looks up to his idol -Ambrose and makes him the Hercules of his helpless world
And he's the best friend and shoulder to cry on for Fern. When she pines for Ambrose, when she's alone and feeling lost and when she's wandering aimlessly in Romance books trying to find a vestige of love from a perfect man. 
Could you belong to someone who didn’t want you? Fern decided it was possible, because her heart was his, and whether or not he wanted it didn’t seem to make much difference.
He guides her path and nudges her heart towards Ambrose . He really wants to take care of her , it's on his bucket list since he was 10 !
Bailey becomes her Moral Compass and untangled the knots in her thoughts all the time, whenever in doubt, he offers her advice

Main characters never die in books. If they did, the story would be ruined, or over.” “Everybody is a main character to someone,”

Soon Ambrose Young enlists in the army and coerces his four best friends to join with him. Jesse, Beans, Paulie & Grant. 
Why does he do that? Because he wants to escape the pressure of living up to everyone's expectations and constantly proving himself or maybe after 9/11 where he loses his mom in the world Trade tower , he needs somebody to blame and pay . Whatever the reason, he is stationed in Iraq for two years where he loses everything one fateful day.

"He wasn’t Hercules and he wasn’t the Tin Man. He was the Cowardly Lion. He’d run away from home and brought his friends with him, his security blanket, his very own cheering section. He wondered what the hell he was doing in Oz."

He questions himself daily in the Hell Hole of war, watching severed limbs and slaughtered bodies . As fate would have it , An ambush kills Paulie, Beans, Jesse and Grant are killed and Ambrose barely survives himself . Disfigured and scarred for life ! He returns home and shuts himself in his childhood bedroom , away from prying horrified eyes , slinking in the dark abysmal guilt that weighs his soul.

“Mr. Hildy told me the lucky ones are the ones who don’t come back

And survivors Guilt is soul crushing like an Elephant sitting on your chest, you're helpless, suffocating hut don't have the strength to move it an inch. He constantly questions -Why Me? 
And here is a flip over in the story. The Handicapped Bailey saves the Mighty Hercules!

I have no pride left, Ambrose!” Bailey said. “No pride. But it was my pride or my life. I had to choose. So do you. You can have your pride and sit here and make cupcakes and get old and fat and nobody will give a damn after a while. Or you can trade that pride in for a little humility and take your life back.”

Bailey surprisely is in charge of collecting the Lost souls . Ambrose warms up to him and in the process sidles up to Fern too.
What a fantastic point in the story here. The Mighty Hercules is King of his world , so engrossed in his beautiful universe that people hide in plain sight, blending in the colour less environment. When the mighty fall down to Earth , they came face to face with the dwellers smaller than him and you see beauty in its rarest form

He was partially blind, but in spite of that, maybe because of that, he was seeing things more clearly than he ever had before.
“I’ve often thought that beauty can be a deterrent to love,” Fern’s father mused. 
“Because sometimes we fall in love with a face and not what’s behind it.I think sometimes a beautiful face is false advertising too, and too many of us don’t take the time to look beneath the lid.

The real beauty just splays in front of you at this point of story 
Fern empathizes with him. She's been a faceless , UGS stricken, plain Jane who's been there; done that . She gets what Ambrose is feeling right now.

She wondered how it would feel to be beautiful and have it taken away. How much harder would it be than never knowing what it felt like in the first place? Angie often remarked that Bailey’s illness was merciful in one regard: it happened slowly through early childhood, robbing the child of his independence before he’d really gained it. So different from those who are paralyzed in an accident and confined to a wheelchair as adults, knowing full well what they have lost, what independence felt like. Ambrose knew what it felt like to be whole, to be perfect, to be Hercules. How cruel to suddenly fall from such heights. Life had given Ambrose another face and Fern wondered if he would ever be able to accept it.

Her unconditional love and support is what rescues him from the depths of his personal hellfire which is still smouldering inside of him 
It's so amazing to see the Beauty and the Beast story unfolding right before your eyes.

"Face of a Hero. Ambrose understood it so much better now. The sorrow on the bronze face, the hand on a breaking heart. Guilt was a heavy burden, even for a mythological champion."

The language is very rich and colourful. Her writing is a display case of emotions and you get a ringside view of relationship of three mutilated and scarred people who hold on to each other after a storm has passed and they're trying to sort through the debris left behind. Bailey is the glue holding all three together. In a way they're all crippled. Fern has a crippled confidence. Bailey has a crippled body. Ambrose has a crippled soul. 
Ambrose carries Bailey in his arms to the top of the hill, Bailey unburdens Ambrose's Heart .
They both share innocent Fern's love and all three hearts sing bad karaoke !!

“I have no pride left, Ambrose!” Bailey said. “No pride. But it was my pride or my life. I had to choose. So do you. You can have your pride and sit here and make cupcakes and get old and fat and nobody will give a damn after a while. Or you can trade that pride in for a little humility and take your life back.”

I loved the softness of the story and the life lessons it teaches. All the secondary characters like Rita , Coach Mike, Pastor Taylor, Elliott are there to intervene at the right time to bolster their confidence and loosen them up. 

Why wouldn’t God make his outside match his inside?” 
“For the same reason He was born in a lowly manger, born to an oppressed people. If He had been beautiful or powerful, people would have followed him for that alone—they would have been drawn to him for all the wrong reasons.”

I went through so many emotions reading this brilliant book.
The game kids play-Making Faces , funny and weird, is symbolic of the Face God gave us and what we turn it into.
Face is used as a facade metaphorically, the cover we hide under, the first impression of people we get and the shallowness of our own human nature . We judge a book by its cover and seldom take time to delve deep and find goodness within.

If God makes all our faces, did he laugh when he made me? 
Does he make the legs that cannot walk and eyes that cannot see? 
Does he curl the hair upon my head ‘til it rebels in wild defiance?
Does he close the ears of the deaf man to make him more reliant? 
Is the way I look coincidence or just a twist of fate? 
If he made me this way, is it okay to blame him for the things I hate? 
For the flaws that seem to worsen every time I see a mirror, 
For the ugliness I see in me, for the loathing and the fear. 
Does he sculpt us for his pleasure, for a reason I can’t see? 
If God makes all our faces, did he laugh when he made me?

I cried when I read Ferns poem, I cried when Ambrose read the poem and I cried when Bailey left . My heart just broke in three pieces and now only two remain. 
I cannot stress enough the essential reading of this story, or rather this experience. 
My spirit has absorbed the traits of all these three characters, I hope to live like Bailey sometimes. 

Bailey loved wrestling. Bailey would have been an amazing wrestler if life had just handed him a different set of cards. But that’s not the way it worked out. But Bailey wasn’t bitter. And he wasn’t mean. And he didn’t feel sorry for himself. Bailey taught him to love and to put things in perspective, to live for the present, to say I love you often and to mean it. And to be grateful for every day. It taught him patience and perseverance. It taught him there are things that are more important than wrestling. Bailey is proof of this. He was always smiling, and in so many ways he had life beat, not the other way around. We can’t always control what happens to us. Whether it’s a crippled body or a scarred face. Whether it’s the loss of people we love and don’t want to live without,”

How can you read these profound words and not be impacted with them. It's virtually impossible. 
The twist in the story has you agape. The saviour becomes the victim and the neglected become the hero. They just lift each other up whenever they stumble and this bizarre trio of limping humans take turns playing heroes. 
I've rambled on and on . But that's the book not me! 
I'm left wondering - if Ambrose hadn't been blinded , would he have picked Fern's tree from the Forest ?
Only Amy knows the answer ...

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