A Face First

( 12 )


After a catastrophic automobile accident, twelve-year-old Kelley wakes up to find her face and body severely burned. To recover, she must suffer through skin-graft operations, painful dressings, and hand exercises that seem akin to torture. Worst of all, she must wear a plastic mask so that her facial skin won't grow back puffy and hard. How will she ever face the world again?

Twelve-year-old Kelley decides to cut off contact with her friends and classmates after ...

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After a catastrophic automobile accident, twelve-year-old Kelley wakes up to find her face and body severely burned. To recover, she must suffer through skin-graft operations, painful dressings, and hand exercises that seem akin to torture. Worst of all, she must wear a plastic mask so that her facial skin won't grow back puffy and hard. How will she ever face the world again?

Twelve-year-old Kelley decides to cut off contact with her friends and classmates after suffering third-degree burns to her face and body in a car accident near her home on Maryland's Kent Island.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
In this straightforward novel, Cummings tells a tale of injury and healing so exquisitely focused on Kelley, the twelve-year-old heroine, that reader identification is all but seamless. Driving Kelley from school, her mother collides with a truck. Kelley is pulled from the wreckage with her hand maimed and half of her face burned away. She undergoes multiple skin grafts and agonizing physical therapy. For a year, she must wear pressure garments—a glove, a stocking, and a full facial mask—to protect newly forming skin. Kelley also must come to terms with changing life conditions. How can she relate to girlfriends whose interactions with Kelley consisted mainly of trips to the mall and experiments with makeup? What does she think about a God who, some say, allowed the accident to happen? How does she feel about her mother who might have been legally at fault? Can she salvage any part of her former life? Have doors opened for her when others have been closed? If so, does Kelley have the strength to walk through them? Kelley's voice rings true from start to finish. She is by turns hopeful and frightened, brave and cowardly, saint and sinner. Teens—no matter what their ages—will like, understand, and struggle with her character. With clear and direct writing, Cummings provides an unsentimental portrait of Kelley and her struggle. A recommended purchase, the book has a clear application for anyone caught up in the drama of devastating injury. The casual or timid reader might shy away from the hard and specialized subject, but Kelley is a heroine worth knowing, and like her scarred face, worthy of a second look. VOYA CODES: 5Q 3P M J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Willappeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2000, Dutton, 244p. Ages 12 to 18. Reviewer: Mary E. Heslin VOYA, February 2001 (Vol. 23, No.6)
From The Critics
When Kelley Brennan awakens in the hospital burn center, unable to feel her fingers on her face, she knows that her life has been changed forever. In A Face First, Cummings describes the physical rehabilitation Kelley endures, culminating with her leaving the hospital wearing a plastic mask. The novel also portrays Kelley's emotional turmoil — from seeing herself in the mirror, to accepting the mask, to forgiving her mother for running the red light and causing the accident that cost Kelley several fingers and half her face. Through the weeks of skin grafts, dressing changes, physical therapy, visits, letters, and phone calls from family and friends, Kelley grows to accept herself, realizing she's still the same Kelley on the inside. This is a well-told story about a very real-to-life trauma, that reminds us that all of us, no matter how strong and full of life, that we are only a moment away from losing everything. Young readers will enjoy the strong emphasis on the power of family and friends to rescue those in need. Genre: Physical Disabilities. 2001, Dutton Children's Books, 137 pp., $16.99. Ages 10 up. Reviewer: Lisa Winkler; South Orange, New Jersey
School Library Journal
Gr 6-10-Unable to remember the horrific automobile accident and resulting explosion that melted her earrings as well as much of her skin, 12-year-old Kelley finds her world of horses, ballet lessons, and environmental projects reduced to a vise of pain in a Baltimore hospital's burn unit. Having dead skin tweezed off and being forced into pressure bandages and difficult physical therapy are bad enough, but when the staff straps a clear plastic mask on her ruined face, Kelley resists in the only way left to her. She quits all human communication. Finally weaned from her self-pity by the cries of a burned baby, she begins to speak once again, but draws the line at seeing friends and returning to school. However, she isn't the only one who isn't fully communicating, and the arrival of a lawsuit brings about an evolution of sorts. Cummings gives a good explanation of medical procedure, but really shines in showing the careful balance of push, pull, and nurturing that must be maintained by the dedicated medical staff who choose to work with fire victims. She understands appearance-conscious adolescents, and leads readers to pull with Kelley in working through the layers of her inner being to reach beyond the mask.-Cindy Darling Codell, Clark Middle School, Winchester, KY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
When 12-year-old Kelley is terribly burned in an automobile accident, she must heal not only physically, but psychologically as well. Much of the novel's action takes place in a burn unit, where Kelley begins to comprehend what has happened: in addition to a badly broken leg, one hand and half of her face are covered with third-degree burns that will take at least a year to fully heal. Cummings (Autumn Journey, 1997, etc.) keeps the third-person narration tightly focused on Kelley and her internal struggle to cope with her new reality, and this becomes simultaneously the novel's strength and weakness. Compeling the reader to move through Kelley's healing process with her, it quickly becomes almost relentless:"When they finished strapping the new pressure mask on her, when the Velcro straps were good and snug, when she saw the world through two small holes, Kelley knew she was truly alone. A prisoner contained in a cell of plastic." It seems unfair to accuse a 12-year-old burn victim of narcissism, but Kelley's undoubtedly perfectly normal reaction to her circumstance becomes somewhat tiresome when it is the only device to drive the plot. Predictably enough, she is coaxed into a more positive attitude by the end of the book, but this comes so suddenly and after so much denial that it's unconvincing. The burn unit procedures carry a fascination of their own and will appeal to those readers who love weepy medical dramas, but Kelley's ordinariness ultimately keeps her story ordinary, too. (Fiction. 10-14)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780142302477
  • Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
  • Publication date: 2/24/2003
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 596,114
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 680L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.55 (d)

Meet the Author

Priscilla Cummings lives in Annapolis, Maryland.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 12 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 1, 2010

    A face first

    A Face First By:Kyla Swanson

    By: Priscilla Cummings

    The novel, "A face first" by Priscilla Cummings has a great plot. Priscilla describes the characters and plot very thoroughly. She writes it so it makes you wonder: Will she go back to school or not? I also enjoyed the characters and how she described them. She made it feel like it was you who was in the book and was the main character instead of Kelly.
    Kelly is the main character and is very smart, believable and brave, but she can get dull at some points. Kelly lives in a small town in America on a farm. Kelly got a 3degree burn in a car crash with a big truck. The engine caught on fire and Kelly got stuck in the car burning. Her mom burnt her hand to save Kelly. Kelly ended up in the hospital for more than 3 months and misses the majority of school. Her friends try to cheer her up by sending cards but it doesn't work. She is mad at the world and everyone!
    Her mom visits her as much as possible, but Kelly suspects something. Was her mom's fault for all of these terrible things that has happened to her? The burned face broken legs burned hand can barely talk? When Kelly is done with surgery she has to wear this ugly facemask to keep her new skin to grow in place. Kelly is so afraid that someone may laugh at her that she doesn't even want her own sister to see her.
    When she gets out of school she plans never to go back to school. Her mom and sister have to persuade her to go back but she still doesn't want to. It takes her friend Daniel to make her come back. He invites her to see some birds with him one day. Kelly can't resist but she hesitates to go. A thought keeps spinning in her mind: Will he see a face first or a mask?
    I really enjoyed how this book ends. I also enjoy Kelly because I can relate to her sometimes I really don't want to go back to school because I'm to embarrassed to because of what I did. I really recommend this book to all of you.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 18, 2012

    I gave my book "A face first" three starts because at

    I gave my book "A face first" three starts because at first I was very interested, but then after a few chapters it didn't catch my interest any longer. This would be a good book for people who are very emotional, and have had something bad happen in their life. But not only do people like that need to read this book, basically anyone could read this book, except for men. I honestly don't think a boy or man would be interested in this kind of novel, but that is just my opinion. The girl in this book had to face many heart ships that she didn't think she could handle. such as her getting made fun of at school just because she looked different from everyone else, but after awhile no one cared what she looked like on the outside, they only cared about her personality on the inside. That's the lesson in this story, not to judge looks, but to judge their inner personality, I will admit, this book could attract many different people, you don't need to have something in common happen in the story, whatever is on the back cover that interests you is what you'd want to read. Anyone could read this book, people who just want to read interesting sad books, but in some parts can be happy, that just warm your heart.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2008

    Fantastic Book

    I just finished reading the book my 5th time, this book is really good. Everytime i read it i learn somethng differant by far this is one of my favorite books, it is very interesting and it is good for pre-teens with low self esteems.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2008

    The BEST book I have ever read

    It is the best book I have ever read. The minute I picked it up I knew it was going to be a good book. I got dissapointed at school when dear time was over. Every day after school when I got home I read for hours straight without stopping. It is by far the BEST book I have ever read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 2, 2007

    book lover

    this was a great book.it taught me alot to not take things for granted. this is on my got to buy list.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2006

    one of the best

    this book taught me about bout how much we rely on our looks and not our inner beauty

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2004


    I heard that Priscilla Cummings was a good author, but because of this book, I'm not sure. I found Kelly a prep and that the entire book was about her complaining about what her life would be like. I felt that she wasn't even happy about her surviving this horrific tragedy.And the cause of the accident? come on.She could have come up with somethings better, sorry.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2003

    Great Book

    This book was awesome!!! I absolutely loved it! It made me cry and really teaches an important lesson in life!!!!! I reccomend this book to anyone!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2003

    A Strange book

    This book shows that kelley is the same on the inside but is different on the out side but later on understands that she can't face the world unless she goes to see more of it. even though it was tough it was good and i recomend it to people who don't like much action.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2003

    A great book!

    I thought that this book was magnificent!! It really showed me how something bad can happen to a normal, everyday person, but you are still the same person on the inside and that's what counts! I reccomend this book to anyone!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 18, 2001

    Uplifting...I couldn't put it down!!!!

    As an avid reader, I am very picky about the ooks I read. 'A Face First' was so uplifting and it made me look at the bright side of things. I definitely recommend this book to anyone...it will put you in a different perspective.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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