Imagine how difficult relationships would be if your face were a total blank. Your friends would never know if you were surprised, hurt, thrilled, or angry. True, you would make a great poker player, but most of life is not a game.
Victor Benucci has Moebius Syndrome, a condition that causes facial paralysis, and although his emotions since his father’s death two years ago have been tumultuous, most people wouldn’t know it. Vic feels that his mother should understand, at least, and so he is cut to the heart when her new boyfriend announces their engagement. Vic runs out the door, grabbing the urn containing his father’s ashes, and without planning it, he falls in with the gang of misfits that he has always admired from afar. The object of his greatest admiration is the beautiful Madeline, devotee of The Outsiders, who has yellow hair that is long on one side and shaved on the other, revealing a scar she doesn’t discuss. The gang also includes little Coco, who struggles to control her foul mouth, and the selectively mute Nzuzi, whose brother Baz acts as a young adult guardian for the group.
As the novel opens, a murder has been committed, and the story is told in depositions and flashbacks from Vic and Mad’s alternate viewpoints. Soon after being taken in by the gang, Vic finds a note in his father’s urn, poetically telling his mom how to dispose of his ashes. The whole gang takes part in figuring out the clues that name places that were significant in Vic’s parents’ love story, but are nearly indecipherable to anyone else.
As the reader unravels the murder investigation, the road-trip mission of disposing of Vic’s father’s remains, and the back-stories and growing relationships of the unlikely group of teens, she will begin to see the tapestry of suffering, compassion, and love that wove them together. Interestingly, Baz is openly religious, which is rare in teen literature. The faith of Zuz and Baz, who endured terrible pain in their war-torn home country, adds a thoughtful layer to this already complex novel. In spite of all the complexity, however, this is a highly readable story with compelling characters and a core of pure love.
Besides the foul language, this is a beautiful novel for all teens and adults. It will make you think. Highly recommended.
I stood in line for a galley of this book in May (See my BEA geek-out story from May 23rd!), but I held onto the review for a while, since it will not be available until September 20th. However, I can personally attest that you can put a hold on it at the library where we live now, and it is available to pre-order, as well.
Disclaimer: I read a signed galley of this novel. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.