PS, this review will be just edging on the spoilery, especially if you're good at reading between the lines.
Francis Cassavant has just come back home from the War and he has no face. But that's how he wants it to be. The War -- and the events that occurred before he left to fight it -- have taken their toll, and he doesn't want to be recognised. Not before his final mission is complete.
This is a really beautiful novel.
It was written in the nineties, which is pretty shocking, seeing as the themes and topics in it are pretty... dangerous for a YA book even now. But maybe that's what's the best thing about it -- it's not afraid and it doesn't shy away from the big topics. It lets its audience do that, as I found out from the slightly misguided lessons my English teacher gave us that made me extremely uncomfortable.
You see, this book doesn't just deal with war, or coming of age, or heroes -- although there is a lot of that -- but rape and paedophilia and murder and suicide and if, even with those things, you can still be an idol, an icon, a hero.
This is the point where my English teacher told us that, no, you can't be a hero with all of that. As Larry says, Does that one sin of mine wipe out all the good? (I apologise for the paraphrasing). Personally, I thought that was the crux of the book. Both Francis and Larry do terrible things, but people still call them heroes, after all. My English teacher, however was pretty adamant, and so was the rest of my class -- although this is the class that blamed Eva Smith for her own suicide in An Inspector Calls even though they'd seen the film, but still. I felt as if no one was getting the point.
And that's why I was uncomfortable. I read this book before we read it in class, and, liberal that I am, I thought this book was preetty close to my own beliefs and things, and made me thing about that one question, what is a hero? I loved the characters, who were all real -- contradictory and confusing enough that they couldn't be fictional -- as if to emphasise the idea that heroes aren't perfect, or that there can be no true heroes because heroes have to be perfect. I wasn't even that bothered by the fact that it was about war, something I'm strongly against, because it was tackled with honesty.
So then I got to this English lesson, buzzing with excitement to delve further into this book than I could conceive to do myself because, let's be honest, I'm not a literary girl. and this is definitely a literary novel, and found myself... disappointed, uncomfortable, and confused.
Larry is 'consummately evil'? Francis is a coward? What?
Basically, the lessons shattered my love for this book. I thought it was beautiful and caring and mesmerizing. I loved every single one of the characters, yes, even Larry and Enrico and poor Arthur and all the nuns -- everyone. And then my teacher tries to tell me that Larry is one-dimensional, simply evil. I was annoyed.
This review became more of a review of my teacher's teaching skills, but the point of all that ranting that I was trying to get to is that... perhaps this book isn't as good as I thought it was. And I don't just mean because my teacher's interpretation of it is the one Cormier wanted to put across, although I might just cry if it is, but because -- well, if what can be taken away from the book is that heroes can be villains and that you shouldn't trust a smile in case it's an evil, paedophilic smile, even by accident, then surely it isn't written properly.
And that's probably the one thing that I've taken away from this book now. Never mind anything about heroes, it's all been pushed out of my mind. What I need to think about is: is an incorrect interpretation of what one has written a reflection on the writer or a reflection on the reader?
I apologise for the double lot of un-review-ness. I think the more left-wing you are, the more you'll enjoy this book. Perhaps it'll be a horrid thing to read for conservatives -- but then, that's a good thing.
Either way, however much you love or hate the views put forward in this novel, they are revealed to us in such a hypnotic, eye-catching, brilliant way that I can say nothing other than:
Liberal reader out!