Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The irony of the title will haunt readers of this novel as they delve into the mind of a WWII veteran whose face has been blown off by a grenade. After winning a Silver Star for bravery, 18-year-old Francis Cassavant could return home a hero, but he keeps his identity secret in anticipation of murdering a personal enemy and wanders the streets of his hometown as a lone, grotesque figure ("People glance at me in surprise and look away quickly or cross the street when they see me coming"). The man Francis seeks is Larry LaSalle, who was once his mentor and who has also earned a Silver Star. Cormier (Tenderness; In the Middle of the Night) offers two levels of suspense in this thriller. His audience will tensely await the inevitable confrontation between the two men while trying to extract Francis's motive for murder from flashbacks revolving around his high school sweetheart and the Wreck (Recreation) Center, where they spent many happy hours under the direction of LaSalle. Cormier is once again on top of his game, as he constructs intrigue, develops complex characters and creates an unexpected climax. His story, as dark as any he has written thus far, will hold fans from first page to last, and set them thinking about what really lurks behind the face of a hero. Ages 14-up. (Aug.)
Children's Literature - Judy Silverman
Eighteen-year-old Francis Cassavant has just returned from World War II without a face, and with a mission. He's not sure that falling on a grenade to save his friends was an act of heroism, since he really just wanted to die at that time, but now that he's back home he's not sure of anything. Here is a war story without battles, without gore, without sex, but with tremendous love and humanity-and heroes in unexpected places. What happened to Nicole Renard that prompted Francis to enlist in the army at sixteen? And whatever happened to Larry LaSalle, the movie-star-handsome "hero" in all the kids' minds and hearts? This is a gripping coming-of-age novel written by a master.
VOYA - Paula Lacey
Eighteen-year-old Francis Joseph Cassavant returns to Frenchtown, hideously wounded after falling on a grenade in World War II. His face has been destroyed and he awaits reconstructive surgery that may not be successful. Cormier's dark, mysterious style projects a sense of impending doom, and the reader soon learns that Francis has returned in order to carry out a mission involving the talented, handsome founder of Frenchtown's recreation program, Larry LaSalle, and Francis's young girlfriend, Nicole Renard. LaSalle, already considered a hero for his dedication to the town's youth, has earned a Silver Star for bravery at Guadalcanal. Through flashbacks, Cormier reveals that it was Larry LaSalle who helped Francis overcome his shyness and gave him the self-confidence to win the love of the beautiful Nicole. However, Larry, the shining hero, is a tragically flawed human being. After a party celebrating his heroic return from the war, Larry rapes Nicole, and Francis, hiding nearby, is too frightened to intervene. Overwhelmed by guilt and shame, Francis fakes his birth certificate, enlists in the Army, and finally attempts suicide by falling on a grenade. This desperate act saves the lives of his company and earns Francis a Silver Star. Cormier explores the meaning of heroism and the hidden motivations for what may appear to be heroic acts. Teens will understand Francis's adulation of Larry, who helped Francis realize his potential, and then his bitter feelings of betrayal when Francis learns the truth about his idol. The theme of guilt and revenge is also powerful and readers will identify with Francis's final desperate attempt to assuage his guilt by killing Larry LaSalle. But when the two "heroes" finally come face to face with each other after years of war, death, and despair, the answer is not so simple. Once again, Cormier has written a suspenseful novel that addresses serious questions of concern to most young adults. VOYA Codes: 5Q 4P J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written, Broad general YA appeal, Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9 and Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12).
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-Francis Cassavant, now 18 and the recipient of the respected Silver Star for heroism, returns to the Frenchtown section of Monument following World War II intent on murdering his former mentor and fellow Silver Star winner, Larry LaSalle. With a face ravaged by shrapnel from the grenade he fell on--ostensibly to save his comrades, but in reality to take his own life--Francis walks the streets of his old hometown. Wearing a silk scarf to mask his disfigurement, he remembers his childhood in the prewar days and searches for his nemesis, whom he feels sure will also return. Memories of his innocent years at St. Jude's Parochial School are sardonically juxtaposed with the present horror of his desolate existence. Expert at nothing as a boy, Francis was empowered by the encouragement of Larry, the acrobat, dancer, teacher, and coach at the town's recreation center. Francis's dreams and youth were shattered when the man, home on leave, raped Francis's girlfriend, and he failed to intervene. Disillusioned, the boy forged his birth certificate, enlisted to die an honorable death, and ended up living a nightmare. Cormier takes the notion of heroism and deconstructs it. The hero is epitomized by Francis: a white scarf, no more than a veneer, hiding an appalling reality of hypocrisy and betrayal. The thread of Catholicism is woven throughout the narrative. Characters are not absolutes, but capable of great and evil acts. This lean, compelling read may not rank among the most popular of Cormier's works, but it is a powerful and thought-provoking study.-Jennifer A. Fakolt, formerly at Carson City Public Library, NV
Cormier (Tenderness, 1997, etc.) again poses a set of chewy moral dilemmas, but he develops them within a sketchy plot more suited to the short-story form. Francis Cassavant returns to Frenchtown after WWII with a Silver Star, with much of his face blown away by a grenade on which he threw himself, and a fixed intention to kill Larry LaSalle. While he waits for Larry, a war hero with a Silver Star of his own, to return from the service, Francis wanders the streets and relives the past: Strong and handsome, Larry had been a hero even before the war, brilliant at bringing out talents in young people, turning shy, unathletic Francis into a table-tennis champ, with enough self-confidence to date lovely classmate Nicole Renard; two years later, back on a triumphant furlough, Larry raped Nicole as Francis stood by in the next room. While Francis's shocking opening description of what's left of his face will churn many stomachs, his long wait for Larry is more tedious than tension-building, and the weary tone of his narrative puts a dreary cast over his observations of a post-war world. To readers familiar with Cormier's work, the climactic confrontation will hold few, if any, surprises. More a deliberately constructed intellectual exercise on the ambiguities of heroism than a story with flesh and blood charactersand, surprising for this author, spelled out as suchthis will disappoint readers hoping for another Tenderness. (Fiction. 12-15)
From the Publisher
"[A] powerhouse novel . . . that will follow the reader long after the story has ended."
"Cormier's . . . story will hold fans from the first page to the last."
--Publisher Weekly, starred
Read an Excerpt
Oh, I have eyes because I can see and eardrums because I can hear but no ears to speak of, just bits of dangling flesh. But that's fine, like Dr. Abrams says, because it's sight and hearing that count and I was not handsome to begin with. He was joking, of course. He was always trying to make me laugh.
If anything bothers me, it's my nose. Or rather, the absence of my nose. My nostrils are like two small caves and they sometimes get blocked and I have to breathe through my mouth. This dries up my throat and makes it hard for me to swallow. I also become hoarse and cough a lot. My teeth are gone but my jaw is intact and my gums are firm, which makes it possible for me to wear dentures. In the past few weeks, my gums began to shrink, however, and the dentures have become loose and they click when I talk and slip around inside my mouth.
I have no eyebrows, but eyebrows are minor, really. I do have cheeks. Sort of. I mean, the skin that forms my cheeks was grafted from my thighs and has taken a long time to heal. My thighs sting when my pants rub against them. Dr. Abrams says that all my skin will heal in time and my cheeks will someday be as smooth as a baby's arse. That's the way he pronounced it: arse. In the meantime, he said, don't expect anybody to select you for a dance when it's Girls' Choice at the canteen.
Don't take him wrong, please.
He has a great sense of humor and has been trying to get me to develop one.
I have been trying to do just that. But not having much success. -->
The gun is like a tumor on my thigh as I walk through the morning streets against the wind that never dies down. April sunlight stings my eyes but the wind dissipates its heat, blustering against store windows and kicking debris into the gutters.
At Ninth and Spruce, I pause and look up at the three-decker and the windows of the second floor, where Larry LaSalle can be found at last. Does he suspect my presence here on the street? Does he have a premonition that he has only a few minutes left to live?
I am calm. My heartbeat is normal. What's one more death after the others in the villages and fields of France? The innocent faces of the two young Germans appear in my mind. But Larry LaSalle is not innocent.
The steps leading to the second floor are worn from use and age, and I think of all the people who have climbed stairs like these, who have worked in the shops and come home heavy with weariness at the end of the day. As I stand at the door of Larry LaSalle's tenement, I touch the bulge in my pocket to verify the existence of the gun. The sound of my knocking is loud and commanding in the silent hallway.
No response. I wait. I rap on the door again, hand clenched as a fist this time.
"Come on in, the door's not locked," Larry LaSalle calls out. That voice is unmistakable, a bit feeble now, yet still the voice that cheered us at the Wreck Center.
Hesitant suddenly, uncertain--his voice giving reality to what I must do--I step into the tenement and into the fragrance of pea soup simmering on the black stove, steam rising from a big green pot.
He is sitting in a rocking chair by the black coal stove, and narrows his eyes, squinting to see who has come into his tenement. He is pale, eyes sunk into his sockets like in the newsreel at the Plymouth, and he seems fragile now, as if caught in an old photograph that has faded and yellowed with age. His eyes blink rapidly as if taking quick pictures of me. Is there a glimmer of fear in his eyes? My heart quickens at the possibility.
"Francis, Francis Cassavant," I announce. It's important for him to know immediately who I am. I don't want to waste any time.
"Ah, Francis," he says, his eyes flashing pleasure because he doesn't sense my mission.
"Come in, come in," he says, the old enthusiasm back in his voice.
He rises slowly from the chair, steadying therocker as he lifts himself up. As he holds out his hands in greeting, I go forward to meet him. We shake hands. At the last minute, when it seems we might embrace as old friends and comrades, teacher and pupil, I pull away. His white hands clutch the air before he clasps them together and settles back into the chair.
"Sit, sit," he says, indicating the chair next to the window opposite his own.
"Take off your jacket," he says. "Your Red Sox cap, too, and your scarf . . ."
I don't move. I don't take off anything. I don't plan to stay long, only long enough to carry out my mission.
"Don't be afraid to show your face, Francis. That face, what's left of it, is a symbol of how brave you were, the Silver Star you earned . . ."
an excerpt from Heroes
My name is Francis Joseph Cassavant and I have just returned to Frenchtown
in Monument and the war is over and I have no face.
Oh, I have eyes because I can see and eardrums because I can hear but
no ears to speak of, just bits of dangling flesh. But that's fine, like
Dr. Abrams says, because it's sight and hearing that count and I was not
handsome to begin with. He was joking, of course. He was always trying
to make me laugh.
If anything bothers me, it's my nose. Or rather, the absence of my nose.
My nostrils are like two small caves and they sometimes get blocked and
I have to breathe through my mouth. This dries up my throat and makes
it hard for me to swallow. I also become hoarse and cough a lot. My teeth
are gone but my jaw is intact and my gums are firm, which makes it possible
for me to wear dentures. In the past few weeks my gums began to shrink,
however, and the dentures have become loose and they click when I talk
and slip around inside my mouth.
I have no eyebrows, but eyebrows are minor, really. I do have cheeks.
Sort of. I mean, the skin that forms my cheeks was grafted from my thighs
and has taken a long time to heal. My thighs sting when my pants rub against
them. Dr. Abrams says that all my skin will heal in time and my cheeks
will someday be as smooth as a baby's arse. That's the way he pronounced
it: arse. In the meantime, he said, don't expect anybody to select you
for a dance when it's Girl's Choice at the canteen.
Don't take him wrong, please.
He has a great sense of humor and has been trying to get me to develop
I have been trying to do just that.
But not having much success.
From the Paperback edition.