cover image A Face First

A Face First

Priscilla Cummings. Dutton Books, $16.99 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-525-46522-5

When sixth-grader Kelley and her mother get into a car accident, Kelley is rushed to the hospital with a broken leg and severe burns, especially to her face. She is in physical pain, and her mental anguish grows throughout the novel, as she wonders why this happened to her, and who she is now that her appearance has been dramatically altered. Her anger and confusion intensify when she suspects that her own mother may have been at fault in the accident. Cummings (Autumn Journey) incorporates medical vocabulary and treatments into her narrative (""Twice a day they come in and pull the dead skin off my leg with tweezers and Q-tips,"" Kelley explains to a visiting friend. ""It's called debridement""), and while these passages are sometimes clunky, readers learn a great deal about burn recovery. The mystery surrounding her mother's responsibility, on the other hand, seems like an unnecessary complication, and some of the descriptions of Kelley's emotions are clich d (e.g., when the heroine opts for the silent treatment, ""Kelley... wondered if she wasn't subconsciously--or maybe consciously--punishing her mother for something that maybe she didn't even do!""). Ultimately, Cummings's careful pacing makes this story work; she helps readers to empathize with the heroine, to follow her from her post-trauma confusion to her rage and withdrawal from the world, and ultimately to her discovery of inner strength. Ages 10-up. (Mar.)