Yesterday someone asked this question on Facebook: “If an alien came to earth, what is one book you would recommend that explains why books exist?” I immediately went through my mental file of favorites. Which one would I choose? My old standbys, Jane Eyre or Cold Sassy Tree? Or one of my newer beloveds, Entitled or Happiness for Beginners?
Now there is an additional one I would consider–Making Faces by Amy Harmon. An absolute triumph of a book that I will say right now is going to get a 10 star rating by the end of this review. (Unapologetic spoiler alert.)
It’s a few months before 9/11 in a small Pennsylvania town. High school wrestler Ambrose Young is the star. He’s exceptionally handsome, polite, sensitive, and a hard worker. He’s also humble, helps his dad at the bakery, stands up for others, and Fern Taylor has loved him since they were kids. Fern, who was blessed with a mass of red hair, freckles, and a diminutive boyish figure. Add in the glasses and braces and it’s no wonder Fern suffers from “UGS.” Ugly Girl Syndrome.
But Fern is too busy to focus on herself. Bailey Sheen, her first cousin, next door neighbor, and best friend in the whole world depends on her. Bailey, as upbeat and charismatic as they come, suffers from Muscular Dystrophy, and its only getting worse. Like Fern, Bailey also reveres Ambrose Young, but his reasons are different. Ambrose is a true inspiration and a physical representation of something Bailey will never be. Girls love Ambrose and the town adores him. Bailey’s body is rapidly weakening and he’ll be lucky to see his twenty first birthday.
The events of 9/11 affect everything. Flight 93 has crashed only a few miles away. The nation is on high alert. Patriotism intensifies and priorities change. Ambrose decides to enlist after graduation, convincing his four closest friends to do the same. When their tour is over, only Ambrose comes back. But he is a different man now. Broken, bitter, traumatized, and disfigured, only those who saw him for more than his looks and accomplishments can help him heal. It’s Fern and Bailey to the rescue.
The rest you will have to discover on your own. Making Faces is one of those near-perfect books where the stars aligned in its creation. You will fall in love with Fern, Bailey, and Ambrose–one of the most heartwarming literary trios I’ve ever encountered. Their strengths and inherent goodness will stay with you for a very long time and Amy Harmon’s writing has a quality to which every author should aspire. I loved this book in every way possible.