If you want to be a work of art, you have to suffer a bit," says 17-year-old Sara Carter. Sara suffers more than a bit in Burgess's (Smack; Doing It) terrifying thriller/morality play, in which she gets the spotlight. Obsessed with both stardom and physical perfection, Sara is also accident-prone, and a face-down encounter with a hot iron seems to put a permanent red mark on her quest for fame. Enter Jonathon Heat, billionaire pop star who endlessly reinvents himself, with the help of controversial plastic surgeon Dr. Kaye. Burgess draws a chilling parallel between over-the-hill icon Jonathon Heat and Michael Jackson, in Heat's attempts to look young, and in setting up a bedroom for Sara on his posh, sprawling estate. Heat shows Sara his face (which he hides under a mask), reduced to shreds after so much surgery. Bernadette, a savvy and kind nurse, and Sara's boyfriend, Mark, provide intermittent reality checks for the outlandish situation. Sara soon begins to see apparitions of a girl with no face, and Sara and Mark discover a locked room giving off the smell of rotting meat. Burgess tells the story through the narrative of a novelist-turned-investigative journalist, alternating with transcripts of Sara's video diaries (in one spine-tingling scene, she corners the "ghost," with echoes of The Blair Witch Project). Burgess wraps his message about vanity and celebrity-obsessed culture in a nightmarish, unforgettable story. Ages 12-up. (May) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
VOYA - Amy Fiske
Afflicted with a grossly distorted sense of self and a penchant for self-destructive behavior, Sarah is also obsessed with fame. Although pretty, Sarah believes her only path to fame and celebrity passes directly through a plastic surgeon's office. What would be fairly harmless in a teen without resources turns tragic after a chance encounter with an infamous rock star whose own obsession with cosmetic surgery has left his face a collapsed, decomposing ruin. Sarah finds herself the new pet project of Jonathon Heat, whisked away to his mansion to prep for a life of celebrity. Sarah cannot believe her luck until she realizes that Heat plans to exact a steep price. Narrated by a journalist investigating a tabloid tale of celebrity run horribly amok, Sarah's story comes to readers after it is over. Pieced together by bits of information gleaned from friends and family, Sarah's video diary, and the sworn statements of an incarcerated Jonathon, the story has a sketchy, superficial feel. Strangely it works by aptly mirroring the toxic shallowness of the two key players. The docudrama style of the narrative keeps the pages turning; what will be a harder sell is the unlikeability of Sarah and Jonathon. An epilogue answers a few questions and renders Sarah less of a mystery, but ultimately readers will struggle to care about or connect with these characters. Although mesmerizing, following characters through their deepest fears can be an uncomfortable experience.
KLIATT - Myrna Marler
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, May 2007: This book raises questions about reality and identity, especially reality and identity as perceived by different people and their remembered experiences. It also raises questions about the role of stories, fiction writers, and objective narrators. It's also a gothic novel about an imperiled young woman, highly reminiscent of Henry James's Turn of the Screw. The vehicle for these themes is the subject of plastic surgery run amok. On the surface, it appears that a mentally disturbed but bright 17-year-old, Sara, has fallen under the sway of a pop star who has fabulous wealth and celebrity. He can afford anything and anyone (he is surrounded by a cadre of yes-men); he lives a reclusive existence in a gigantic house in the English countryside. He once was beautiful but after dozens, maybe hundreds, of plastic surgery procedures at the hands of an eccentric, perhaps demented, Dr. Frankenstein-like plastic surgeon, his face has collapsed and he wears a mask, as do all his fansas does Sara, because when she looks in the mirror she sees only ugliness. The people around Sara think Jonathan Heat wants to steal her face. They try to save her but she tells everyone different stories, and in the end doesn't seem to know the real story and whether she gave up her face willingly or not, or whether her essential self is dead or not. Meanwhile there are ghosts and locked rooms a la Bluebeard. All of this is recounted by a documentary-type narrator who admits he usually writes fiction. And since this is a novel, readers can assume none of it has happened anyway. Plenty to discuss; very post-modern. Reviewer: Myrna Marler
Children's Literature - Christina M. Desai
Burgess, master of the YA genre, again hits a young adult nerve with this novel about obsession with body image and fame. By all accounts, his protagonist Sara is beautiful, yet she lacks a sense of self. As she experiments with different personalities and looks, she becomes more and more unstable, succumbing to anorexia and self-mutilation. In this novel, Burgess adopts a new stylistic approach, turning from stark realism to a curious blend of the journalistic and the gothic. The story begins as a fictional documentary, investigating a tabloid scandal involving total face-replacement plastic surgery on a (perhaps) unwilling patient/victim. We hear various accounts by those surrounding Sara, by Sara herself, and by the reporter/narrator. These multiple perspectives reinforce the sense of reportage, in which real motives and sometimes even facts cannot be known for sure. The font in the running title resembles old typewriter font, reinforcing the feel of a news story hastily battered out on a typewriter just before the presses roll. Yet the style is only half documentary. The other half is gothic novel, complete with secret passages, ghosts, psychosis, an evil doctor/scientist, a secret locked room, increasing suspense, and an ultramodern damsel in distress. The author repeatedly uses images of masks and knives, reminding us of the artificiality of celebrity culture. But classic imagery comparing the villains to snakes and reptiles also reminds us that, as of old, we do judge by appearances and equate beauty with goodness and ugliness with evil. Thus, the novel's gothic aspects amplify the author's commentary on our society's unnatural obsession with celebrity and perfect body image. Atone point, Sara remarks, "The point is, this is art. It isn't natural, that's the point." The gothic element also evokes popular fears that contemporary science has run amok, fears that were shared in the time of Frankenstein. Cloning, stem-cell research, and advances in brain research may create a suspicion that human beings are no more than living machines, masks with no soul. Though some may balk at the intrusion of the gothic into this novel, it is a well-wrought study of the quest for image versus the quest for self. Reviewer: Christina M. Desai
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up
Seventeen-year-old Sara wants to be spectacular. Not just pretty, not just popular, but spectacularly famous. She is a borderline anorexic, purposely hurts herself, often adopts different personalities, emits her own special perfume smell, and sees ghosts, among other things. When pop idol Jonathon Heat takes her under his wing, she crosses into a world of lunacy and cosmetic surgery to reach her goals. An eerie Michael Jackson-esque figure, Heat lives on a wacky estate with a private plastic surgery theater and has undergone so many facial reconstructions that he's forced to cover his pieced-together face with a mask. After Sara moves into his compound, readers are led to believe that she will meet the same fate, or worse. Known for edgy, raw teen novels that pull no punches, Burgess certainly delivers his trademark sexual frankness, folding in the issues of body image, self-mutilation, and personality disorder. Unfortunately, he chooses to use a narrator, an investigative reporter of sorts, who attempts to piece together Sara's story through a series of interviews and video diaries. A unique concept in itself, the result is a clunky story, rife with clichés and indistinct character voices. Readers will undoubtedly find themselves wishing for a twist or a turn rather than a string of obvious allusions. This modern horror story touches on many contemporary issues and could spark discussion, but the unknowable protagonist and scattered storytelling ultimately serve to distance readers rather than engage them.
Jill Heritage MazaCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
A fictional "novelist doing a journalist's job" maintains stunning suspense as he conducts interviews with the secondary players in a world-famous gruesome crime. The three main players are unavailable. Seventeen-year-old Sara disappeared after the crime, perhaps dead, perhaps irreparably damaged or deranged. Dr. Kaye, an experimental surgeon who pioneered unsafe facial transplants, died in a fire. Jonathon Heat, aging rock star who had so many facial reconstructions that his grisly visage is more bone and blood than flesh, sits in jail. Interspersing Sara's spare video diary with peripheral interviews, the narrator rivets readers as a terrifying inevitability unfolds. Sara lives in Heat's mansion pursuing her "hopes and dreams" about amorphous, wild fame, dissembling left and right. She tells one story to boyfriend Mark, one to nurse Bernadette and another to Kaye and Heat. How far will she go to achieve fame and escape the psychotic inner demons saying her face is not her own? A gory nail-biter with ghastly sadness and maddening emotional incomprehensibility, exquisitely done. Read in daylight. (Fiction. YA)
From the Publisher
"Vanity and celebrity-obsessed culture in a nightmarish, unforgettable story." Publishers Weekly, starred review