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Monday, February 10, 2014

(Review) Making Faces by Amy Harmon

Title: Making Faces
Author: Amy Harmon
Published: October 12, 2013 (Self-published)
Rating: Staying in Tonight
Format: Digital copy, purchased
Summary: Ambrose Young was beautiful. He was tall and muscular, with hair that touched his shoulders and eyes that burned right through you. The kind of beautiful that graced the covers of romance novels, and Fern Taylor would know. She'd been reading them since she was thirteen. But maybe because he was so beautiful he was never someone Fern thought she could have...until he wasn't beautiful anymore.

Making Faces is the story of a small town where five young men go off to war, and only one comes back. It is the story of loss. Collective loss, individual loss, loss of beauty, loss of life, loss of identity. It is the tale of one girl's love for a broken boy, and a wounded warrior's love for an unremarkable girl. This is a story of friendship that overcomes heartache, heroism that defies the common definitions, and a modern tale of Beauty and the Beast, where we discover that there is a little beauty and a little beast in all of us.
I was originally going to re-read and review a different book for my first review of this feature. At the last moment, I decided to do a quick scan of Goodreads and see if there were any promising Beauty and the Beast themed books I could get my hands on quickly enough. Lo and behold, my eyes fell on Making Faces. The cover screamed New Adult, which I've been burned by to the point where I have to force myself to read it. But I decided to investigate anyway. While the cover looked like a typical NA, the blurb seemed to suggest anything but. I'm a sucker for the scarred (either internally and externally; bonus points for both) hero. Plus military? AND it even mentioned Beauty and the Beast in the blurb, which was the reason I was seeking it out? Yes, please. So I clicked over to B&N and bought it before I could think twice. Not the approach I usually take when buying books, but in this case, I'm so glad I did!

The story started in high school where we met Fern and Ambrose for the first time. Ambrose was a wrestling star at the top of the heap, and Fern was a lowly ugly duckling in the view of the few students who actually noticed her. Still, Fern loved Ambrose and had since they were children, and as a romance lover and a writer at heart, she fell into the Cyrano-esque trap of writing love letters back and forth to Ambrose...except she was doing it for her friend Rita. When this was uncovered, Fern's hopes of capturing Ambrose's heart for herself were dashed.

Except after graduation, Ambrose went off to war and came back almost unrecognizably scarred. Fern had lost the braces and glasses and learned how to manage her hair. But she had kept her goodness, her faithfulness, and her unfailing love for Ambrose. Now maybe this might seem pathetic, but Fern never made it seem so weak. It was simply part of who she was. She wasn't ashamed of it, and she owned it, which was something I honestly wasn't sure she had the backbone to do. It made me love her more. In fact, I quite liked Fern as a character.
Fern had been reading romances since she was thirteen years old. She had fallen in love with Gilbert Blythe from Anne of Green Gables and was hungry to fall in love like that over and over again. And then she discovered Harlequin. Her mother would have croaked face first into her herbal mint tea if she’d known how many forbidden romances Fern consumed the summer before eighth grade, and Fern had had a million book boyfriends since then.
She was a pastor's daughter who devoured romance novels. So, really, how could I not like her? It was really fun that I could identify with that side of Fern, even though I was unlike her in many other ways. While there are quite a few bookish heroines, it was refreshing and awesome to read about about one who loved romance novels.

Then there was Ambrose. I'm not a wrestling fan, and I don't like my guys with long hair. Somehow, though, it worked for high school Ambrose. He was actually a pretty nice guy, and he was intrigued by Fern even though he never acknowledged it. One thing I wasn't expecting was that we actually got to see some of the interaction between Ambrose and his friends both before and during their time as soldiers, which helped me understand his pain even more. Once he came back, Ambrose was reclusive for many reasons. His looks were a big factor, but Amy Harmon refrained from beating the issue to death, which I appreciated.

BUT. Lest you think the (albeit incomprehensible) thought that a lovely romance is not enough to capture your attention, please read on. This book is not just a romance. No, really. While the love story was wonderful and my love for it is growing even stronger in hindsight, the star of this show was not one of the main two. It was a boy named Bailey.

Bailey positively captured my heart. He was Fern's best friend, and he had Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a disease which breaks down muscles and, eventually, weakens the body to the point where it is no longer able to function. Since this book took place over the course of a couple years with several flashbacks, we were able to see Bailey at several points in his disease. For the majority of the book, though, Bailey was wheelchair-bound, unable to lift his arms past his chest. But he had not lost his spirit. He was such an engaging personality, hilarious and inspiring and real. He had quotes like this that broke my heart:
It’s hard to come to terms with the fact that you aren't ever going to be loved the way you want to be loved.
But he had a million more that made me smile, made me think, made me laugh out loud. In short, this was half a romantic love story, half a Bailey story, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Making Faces played into the Beauty and the Beast theme in several ways. There was the obvious, of course, the fact that the beautiful Fern loved the no-longer-beautiful Ambrose. But there was a theme throughout of looking beyond appearances and seeing what was beneath. Inside, Bailey was the world's greatest wrestler and full of vitality. Inside, Fern had a heart that surpassed her beauty. Inside, Ambrose was capable of goodness and love at odds with his tragic appearance. This book showed many times over that the outside means nothing. Beautiful people can be ugly inside, vice versa, and any combination thereof. The outside is nothing but a cover, the side strangers see when they pass by on the street. The inside is what counts.

Not that you'd be expecting it, but Making Faces was not a light read. I spent a good portion of it crying for a variety of reasons. But I am still in love with it and still thinking about it several days later. I am so glad I gave this one a chance, and I definitely plan to check out more of Amy Harmon's books. Making Faces was a surprising, inspiring, and emotional read that satisfied my inner Fern-esque romance-loving heart and gave me something beyond my expectations.
“The Ancient Greeks believed that after death, all souls, whether good or bad, would descend to the Underworld, the kingdom of Hades, deep in the Earth, and dwell there for eternity,” Bailey read aloud, his eyes flying across the page.

She struggled with the words for two days. Everything from “Hi. Glad you’re back!’ to “I couldn’t care less if your face isn’t perfect, I still want to have your babies.” Neither seemed quite right.

You read smutty romance novels and quote scripture. I’m not quite sure I have you figured out.

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