Author: Alyssa B. Sheinmel
Pub. Date: September 29, 2015
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Formats: Hardcover, paperback, eBook, audiobook
When Maisie gets into a terrible accident, her face is partially destroyed. She’s lucky enough to get a face transplant–but how do you live your life when you can’t even recognize yourself anymore?
She was a runner, a girlfriend, a good student…a normal girl. Now all that has changed. As Maisie discovers how much her looks did–and didn’t–shape her relationship to the world, she has to redefine her own identity, and figure out what “lucky” really means.
From Alyssa Sheinmel, the acclaimed author of Second Star, this is a lyrical and gripping novel that will challenge readers to think about how we create and define ourselves.
About Alyssa B. Sheinmel
I was born in Stanford, California, and even though I moved across the country to New York when I was six years old, I still think of myself as a California girl.
Like so many writers, I grew up loving books. I loved stories so much that when there was nothing to read, I wrote my own stories just to give myself something to read. And when there was no pen and paper to be had, I made up stories and acted them out by myself. I played all the parts, and I was never bored.
It feels like swimming. No, I wasn’t swimming. I was running.
Step, breath. Step, breath.
“She’s moving!” someone shouts. My father’s voice. But what’s he doing here, on my run? We haven’t run together in years. He can’t keep up with me anymore.
Step, breath. Step, breath.
Slowly, I become aware that I’m not standing. That my feet aren’t pounding the pavement but flailing around, trapped under tightly tucked covers. The sensation of swimming had nothing at all to do with water, but swimming up into consciousness after a long, deep sleep.
“Hurry, please!” My mother’s voice this time. “She’s moving!”
Why are they shouting like it’s some kind of miracle that I’m moving? I move every minute of every day. I even move in my sleep— I toss and turn, one of those people who can’t stay in the same position all night.
A deep voice that I don’t recognize says my name once, twice. He shines a bright light in my eyes. “Dilated,” he murmurs. Louder: “She’s going to drift in and out of consciousness for the next hour or so. Don’t be surprised if she’s a little fuzzy for a while.”
It takes me a second to realize that the man with the deep voice isn’t talking to me, but about me. I open my mouth to speak, but sleep sneaks up on me again, swallowing my questions before they have a chance to escape.
This happens at least three more times that I can remember—I move, my parents shout, the man with the deep voice shines a light in my eyes and I fall back to sleep—but the fourth time, my eyes finally stay open.
The skin surrounding my eyes is wrapped up in something thick and bulky so that I have tunnel vision: I can see only what’s directly in front of me, and since I’m lying on my back, all I can see is the ceiling, painted a sticky sort of light blue that someone probably thought looked like the sky.
I try to speak, but my voice is nothing more than the thinnest of croaks, as though I haven’t had anything to drink for weeks. My throat feels like it’s made of sandpaper and my lips feel like there are dozens of tiny needles pricking them over and over.
“Mom?” I whisper. I try to clear my throat, lick my lips, swallow, but everything is dry. My lips are cracked and when I stick my tongue out to lick them, I feel something foreign on my face.
I think it’s bandages. I think I’m in the hospital.
“Mom?” I croak. I try to roll over but my left side feels like it weighs a thousand pounds. I can’t roll over.
“I’m here, honey.” My mother’s voice sounds soft and soothing, nothing like it sounded when she shouted for help earlier. I try to lift my head to see her face, but I can’t actually turn my neck. My head feels like it’s encased in plaster. Maybe it is. I begin to sweat, a string of panic twisting its way through my rib cage. What happened to me?
My mother must position herself so that her face is directly above mine, because finally I can see her hovering above me. The string of panic tightens when I see the expression on her face. I’ve never seen her look so frightened. She looks about ten years older than she did the last time I saw her.
My god, this must be bad. My heart starts beating hard, so fast that a nearby machine begins to wail.
“Sweetheart,” she says, trying to reach for me, but I shake my head. Or I try to shake my head. I can’t move my neck. Oh god, I’m paralyzed. Oh god, I broke my spine and I’ll never run again. I’m going to be one of those people who sit in a wheelchair and move it forward by blowing into a tube.
No. Get a grip, Maisie. I was able to move my legs before. They saw me moving my legs. I kick them now, just to make sure I can. I exhale deeply, my throat still parched, but my heart begins to slow. The machine resumes its steady beep. Listening carefully, I guess that it must be right next to the bed, just above me on the right.
“Water,” I croak. It’s hard to make words from beneath whatever it is that’s wrapped around my face. The word comes out sounding like wa-wa, but my mother must understand because she nods, then disappears. She doesn’t go far; she’s just moving to get a cup of water from my bedside table, but that’s outside of my field of vision.
“Is it okay?” my mother asks.
Another female voice answers, “Just a little.”
“Who’s that?” I ask. I wish I could see. I wish I could sit up. I wish I could move.
“One of your nurses,” Mom says. “Anna.”
Then Mom reappears. She holds a cup to my mouth and I use a straw to drink, even though it hurts my lips. I hold it with my teeth instead. Water has never tasted so good. I could drink ten, twenty, thirty glasses of water. I swish the water around in my mouth, wetting all the places that feel so dry.
“Not too much, sweetie,” my mother says, pulling the cup away, her face back to its place above mine. What’s wrong with me that water is dangerous?
Footsteps; someone coming into the room.
“Give her a chance, Sue,” says another voice. My father’s this time. “She hasn’t had anything to drink for nearly a month.”
It’s hard to drink lying so flat and water goes down the wrong tube. I cough—or anyway, I try to cough, but it’s hard when you’re as immobilized as I am. What does he mean, I haven’t had anything to drink for nearly a month? I must have misheard him. Every sound is muffled through whatever it is that’s wrapped around my head.
“What happened to me?” Even after the water, my voice sounds strange. I can barely move my mouth: Wha happa ta ma?
“You’re in the hospital,” Dad says, not answering my question. I can’t see his face but it sounds like he’s standing at the foot of my bed. There’s room for only one person in my limited field of vision and it’s still my mother.
He adds, “The burn unit of the hospital. Do you remember your accident?”
I keep forgetting that I can’t shake my head. The burn unit. The panic string in my chest tightens. A burn unit is not a good place to be.
“You were running,” Dad prompts. It’s strange to hear his voice, feel his presence in the room, without seeing his face. “There was a storm.”
“Lightning,” I say, remembering. The words come out muffled, as if my mouth were stuffed with gauze. “I was struck by lightning?”
My question is met with silence at first. Another time, another place, that question would be a joke. No one is actually struck by lightning, right? I mean, I know somewhere, someway, people are. But it’s really really rare, right? Nervous sweat drips down my neck, seeping into my bandages. Finally, my mother says, “She can’t see you shaking your head, Graham.”
“There was a fire,” Dad answers finally. There’s something weird in his voice, like he can barely stand saying the word fire out loud. Mom leaves my side for a moment; I hear her shoes clicking on the floor as she crosses the room. Is she going to hug my father? I can’t remember the last time I saw them so much as shake hands.
Whatever’s wrong with me, it must be really bad if she’s comforting him.
My heart starts to pound again. I beg it not to go so fast that the machine starts screeching again, concentrating the same way I do when I run and I’m trying to save up my energy for the final sprint. But my will isn’t strong enough to overcome my body, at least not this time, because the machine starts to wail. I hear footsteps and the sound stops—the nurse, Anna, must have turned off the machine.
“Dad, please. What’s wrong with me?” My question sounds absurd: Wha wron wit ma? I repeat the question, struggling to make the words sound clear. They’ll never tell me if I sound like a toddler.
It can’t be that bad. I’m not the kind of person really bad things happen to. Not particularly good things, either. I’m just a normal girl. I’m not the most popular, but I’m not the biggest nerd either. I have a boyfriend, but it’s not like he’s the captain of the football team and I’m homecoming queen. I’ve had the same best friend since first grade. My parents fight, but everyone’s parents fight. I’m just normal.
And it can’t be that bad because I’m not in any pain. Nothing hurts. I try lifting my right arm; it feels fine. But when I try to lift my left arm, I discover that something is holding it in place.
Finally, Mom says, “The doctor will be here in just a second. Your father went to ask for him the minute you woke up.”
“Why can’t I move my left arm?”
“It’s all wrapped up in bandages, baby. You suffered seconddegree burns on your left arm and torso.”
I exhale. Second-degree burns. That’s not so bad, I think. Can’t people get second-degree burns from just staying in the sun too long? I’m going to be okay. The string of panic loosens; my heart slows. I take a deep breath.
Footsteps again. Then a face I’ve never seen before is hovering above mine. But when he speaks I recognize his voice. He’s the one who said I’d be a little fuzzy for a while.
“Second-degree burns aren’t that bad, right?” I ask immediately.
He ignores my question. Or maybe he didn’t understand it. How will I get answers if I can’t make myself be heard? Beneath my bandages, I feel hot. I fight the urge to yank at them like a too-tight collar.
“Maisie, my name is Dr. Cohen. I’ve been handling your case since you were brought in.”
Something about the way he says since you were brought in gives away the fact that I’ve been here a long time. My father’s words come back to me.
“What did my dad mean when he said that I hadn’t had anything to drink for nearly a month?” It takes me a while to ask such a long question. I have to hold each word in my mouth before it can get out.
Dr. Cohen blinks, hesitating. He looks away for a second, to my parents maybe. He nods. His dark brown eyes remind me of Chirag’s, though his aren’t quite so deep, not quite so liquidy. In the right light, Chirag’s eyes look like cups of black coffee.
“You’ve been getting all the fluids you need from your IV,” Dr. Cohen says. He sounds positively cheerful about it, as though getting fluids from a needle is a much more convenient way to stay hydrated than, say, drinking.
“Have I been in a coma or something?” I ask slowly.
“Something like that,” Dr. Cohen says. “Though not a coma like you’d think of it.”
What is that supposed to mean, I think but do not say. I’ve never actually thought of a coma one way or another before.
“We induced your coma,” he says carefully.
Suddenly, I wish it was my mother’s face and not Dr. Cohen’s that I was looking at, no matter how frightened she looks. In fact, for the first time in a long time—maybe for the first time ever—I wish I were sitting on my mother’s lap, wish she was rocking me back and forth and saying things like It’s gonna be okay, baby and Nothing to worry about, just a scratch or two.
“Why?” I ask finally.
“With your injuries—Maisie, you were burned very badly.” His face is serious, his mouth settling into a perfectly straight line in between sentences. “Your injuries were so severe that we thought it would be best to keep you in a coma until we could manage your pain. Your body needed the time to recover.”
That doesn’t sound so bad. I must be almost fixed, then, if they’ve decided it’s time for me to wake up. I must have slept through the worst of it.
“For how long?” I ask.
“A few weeks,” Dr. Cohen answers.
A few weeks? A few weeks! I know I shouldn’t be surprised— Dad said it had almost been a month—but seriously, who do these doctors think they are, the bad fairy in Sleeping Beauty?
I close my eyes, trying to imagine everything I must have missed. Prom, for starters. It was scheduled for three weeks before the end of the school year. Serena and I were going to get ready together. She was going to do my hair for me, since I never have the patience to do anything but pull it into a ponytail. She was going to be ready with her camera when Chirag picked me up, to catch a picture of what his face looked like when he first saw me in my dress. We weren’t going to sit out a single dance all night.
Has the school year ended yet? Don’t they know I can’t miss my final exams? I have papers to write. Races to run. Am I going to have to repeat my junior year? How am I going to get into Berkeley with something like that on my record?
Summer school. I can go to summer school. Plenty of kids do. And the doctors will put a note on my file explaining that I wasn’t a delinquent or something, I just had an accident.
“When can I go home?” I ask, though I say it too fast and it sounds like Whe cah ah ga ho? I say it again, slower this time.
Dr. Cohen blinks again. “Maisie, I’m afraid you’re going to be with us for quite some time yet.”
“But why? For a few second-degree burns?”
Even as I ask the question, I know that there’s something more, something they haven’t told me yet. Suddenly, I’m certain that something very bad has happened to me. I can hear it in the timbre of my mother’s voice and I can see it in the rehearsed smile that’s plastered on Dr. Cohen’s face. The panic is setting in again. My heart is beating faster. Sweat pools at the nape of my neck.
They don’t put you in a coma for a few second-degree burns.
My mother’s voice rings out, clear as a bell: “Maisie. It wasn’t just your left side that got burned.”
Excerpt from Faceless
By Alyssa Sheinmel
Copyright © 2015 by Alyssa Sheinmel
All rights reserved. Published by Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc.,
Publishers since 1920. SCHOLASTIC, SCHOLASTIC PRESS, and associated logos are trademarks and/or registered trademarks of Scholastic Inc.
3 winners will receive a finished copy of FACELESS. US Only.
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