The Washington Post
Second Nature: A Love Storyby Jacquelyn Mitchard
New York Times bestselling author Jacquelyn Mitchard’s novels, with their riveting stories and unforgettable characters, have won the hearts of millions of readers. Now, from the author of The Deep End of the Ocean and No Time to Wave Goodbye, comes the fierce and moving tale of one woman’s fight for her identity and her life when/i>/i>/i>
New York Times bestselling author Jacquelyn Mitchard’s novels, with their riveting stories and unforgettable characters, have won the hearts of millions of readers. Now, from the author of The Deep End of the Ocean and No Time to Wave Goodbye, comes the fierce and moving tale of one woman’s fight for her identity and her life when fate holds out a second chance.
Sicily Coyne was just thirteen when her father was killed in a school fire that left her face disfigured. Twelve years later, a young surgeon, Eliza Cappadora, offers hope in the form of a revolutionary new surgery that may give Sicily back the grace and function she lost. Raised by a dynamic, tenacious aunt who taught her to lead a normal life, and engaged to a wonderful man who knew her long before the accident, Sicily rejects the offer: She knows who she is, and so do the people who love her. But when a secret surfaces that shatters Sicily’s carefully constructed world, she calls off the wedding and agrees to the radical procedure in order to begin a new life.
Her beauty restored virtually overnight, Sicily rushes toward life with open arms, seeking new experiences, adventures, and, most of all, love. But she soon discovers that her new face carries with it risks that no one could have imagined. Confronting a moral and medical crisis that quickly becomes a matter of life and death, Sicily is surrounded by experts and loving family, but the choice that will transform her future, for better or worse, is one she must make alone.
An intense and moving story of courage, consequence, and possibility, Second Nature showcases the acclaimed storyteller at her very best.
From the Hardcover edition.
The Washington Post
“Timely…provocative….[Mitchard’s] distinctive voice is strong throughout and includes ironic and even funny observations about the human condition in the face of tragedy….[Her] latest will not disappoint.”
--Washington Post Book World
“A compelling, Jodi Picoult-like story.”
“Mitchard’s latest ought to come with a warning: make no immediate plans, because this book will take over your life….It is impossible not to root for [Sicily Coyne]…[as] she is both delightfully and excruciatingly fast-tracked through life experiences guaranteed to have readers alternately loving and hating but never forgetting this remarkable heroine....A high-profile novel destined to galvanize fans and new readers alike.
--Booklist, starred review
“A riveting tale….[Readers] will embrace Sicily, a strong and extremely empathic heroine.”
“There’s a newsy urgency to this story.”
“Jacquelyn Mitchard is back with a fascinating story that only she can tell. The characters are the sort that stay with you long after the last page is turned.”—Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help
“Second Nature is a love story like no other. Sicily Coyne survives an unimaginable tragedy, skillfully imagined by Jacquelyn Mitchard, and must then face seemingly insurmountable obstacles and struggle against impossible odds in her quest to find what we all want—true connection, fulfillment, and lasting love.”—Lisa Genova, author of Still Alice
“Mitchard writes with passion and artistry, weaving a vivd story that both moves and astonishes. From the very first paragraph, you know you are in the hands of a gifted writer.”—Tess Gerritsen, author of Ice Cold
“Mitchard is one of my favorite writers for a reason. This is her best book yet.”—Karin Slaughter, author of Fallen
A face transplant transforms a burn victim into a beauty, but presents new dilemmas.
Sicily's life is forever changed in eighth grade, when the Chicago church in which she is attending choir practice burns down in a freak fire (two Christmas trees ignite). She is luckier than many of her choirmates—she escapes with her life, dashing from a partially blocked church entrance. However, her beloved father, a firefighter, is killed in the blaze, and Sicily's face is severely disfigured. After several corrective surgeries, she must wear a prosthetic nose and heavy greasepaint to emerge in public. Still, she manages an almost normal life. Her Aunt Marie, a glamorous newscaster, raises her after her mother's death. She becomes a sought-after medical illustrator and is engaged to be married to her childhood friend Joey, who was at the church but who survived the fire unscathed. Her plans of adjusting to her "specialness" are rudely dashed when she learns that Joey watched his brother set the fire and that Joey has hid his complicity all these years. She seizes the opportunity to undergo a still-experimental facial transplant. A comatose teenage organ donor whose mother reluctantly takes her off life-support provides the visage, and after the intricate surgery and arduous recovery Sicily finds herself again being stared at—in admiration. Characters from other Mitchard novels, the Oprah-blessed Deep End of the Ocean (1996) and its sequel, trigger a crisis: Beth (mother of the kidnapped child in Deep) is documenting Sicily's metamorphosis in photographs, but it is her older son Vincent, a filmmaker, who truly transforms Sicily—after their brief but tumultuous affair, she becomes pregnant. If she doesn't terminate the pregnancy, the powerful immunosuppressants she is on may damage the fetus; if she foregoes the drugs, she may literally lose her face and possibly die from sepsis.
Mitchard handles this fraught material unsensationally, adding plenty of convincing research-backed detail. Too often though, the characters' endless moralizing douses the excitement.
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Read an Excerpt
Mitchard: SECOND NATURE
This is what I know.
My father stood in the center aisle of the Lady Chapel—that hunched, hexed little building he hated as a father and as a firefighter—under the lowering band of sooty, mean-colored smoke, and he looked right at me. He understood what had happened to me, and although he couldn’t tell me then, he was still happy. He thought I was one of the lucky ones.
This is what I remember.
There were fifty of us in the Lady Chapel that late afternoon, December 20, the shortest day of the year. Inside, in winter, it was always about as warm and bright as an igloo. Wearing our coats and mittens as we sang “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” we could see our breath. As a place of worship and a historic structure, the Lady Chapel was exempt from all the building codes and conformed to none of them, which was why Dad despised the very sight of it. The mahogany pews, each with a different intricate carving, massaged for seventy years with layers of flammable polish, were nothing but tinder to him. Raw and reckless new structures, when they burned, were flimsy as tents. But the old chapel had stone walls a foot thick and had been reroofed so many times that Dad said that it could have withstood a phosphorus bomb.
It didn’t take anything as potent as a bomb, only a small candle in a small draft.
That day, just as the choirmaster, Mr. Treadwell, brought together his fingertips and held them up to his delicate cheekbones, twinkly as a ballerina (looking back, I think Mr. Treadwell was twinkly all the time, what my mother called “a confirmed bachelor”), first one and then the other Christmas tree on either side of the altar went up like ten-foot sparklers. A few kids simply stood, flat-footed and amazed, as though the pyrotechnics were some sort of holiday surprise.
I knew better than to think that, even for a second.
It was only luck that I was in the last row of the choir’s three-tiered semicircle, because I was taller and older, in eighth grade. I turned to run straight back, but the fire was more agile, leaping voraciously ahead of me along the strip of gold carpet between the seats. The Advent banners dodged and gyrated above my head like burning bats. I held my new purse, a birthday present from my Grandmother Caruso, up to my face, instinctively protecting my lungs. Then, I turned around to face the fire on the altar, which went against all instincts, except for someone raised in my father’s catechism: Keep cool. Keep making choices. These rules were not second nature to me by then. They were first nature. I felt my way along the communion rail and then turned left at the wall, feeling my way along under the windows until I saw what I knew what must be the door—a ghostly flapping of white light that looked like a giant moth. This, I knew, must be the door opening and closing. When I got there, I reached for the big bronze curve of the door handle. I knew it must be there. But my fingers were clumsy in my leather mitten, and when I stopped to pull it off, other kids rear-ended me, knocking me sideways. I jumped up and grabbed for the door handle again, trying to ignore the escalating chorale of high-pitched screaming. Was there a moment of stupor? It could only have been a moment. The next thing I recall clearly was standing up, looking over my shoulder at the oxygen mask on the face of my father’s rookie, Renee Mayerling, a grown woman who was not as tall as I was already at thirteen. She shoved me along with the exigent roughness of a rescuer, with her other hand dragging Libby Van de Water. Suddenly I was out, tripping and falling on my face in a foot of fresh, burning-cold snow, which probably saved my eyes. As soon as I could, I lifted my head to look around me. There was my friend Joey LaVoy and his brother, Paulie, who were not in the choir but had come running over from the school, yelling, Help them! Help them! That’s when I really saw the other kids from the choir everywhere around me, some lying still as sleeping bags, closed and pale, others crawling half naked, because their clothes had caught fire. There were a few I didn’t even recognize, because somehow their arms and faces were swollen as brown as the surface of caramel apples. Renee came out and I looked for my dad, who would have been right behind Renee—I just sensed him being right behind her. And then he wasn’t. Instead, he stayed inside the door, while Renee crouched low, holding out her arms to Dad. I understood then. I should have known it, and somehow I should have done something, like kicked away that big doorstop. One side of the huge arched door was always kept locked, by order of the principal, Sister Ignatius Bell, so that students could enter and leave the Lady Chapel in single file only. But kids hadn’t run for their lives in single file. In the smutchy darkness, they collided with the locked side and fell, and the kids behind them tripped and fell, and pretty soon the ones on the bottom must have been pinned down and the others kept on coming.
I turned over in the snow and scooted to a sitting position, then struggled to my knees. I could still see over my father’s head, all the way to the altar. Sweet Mr. Treadwell must have waited until he could shepherd out all of the kids he could see. He stood on the altar like a living crucifix, his arms out and his head thrown back, the two flaming fir trees on either side of him, their skinny trunks gyrating like ink lines in the deep dirty yellow flames and then vanishing altogether. I cared about Mr. Treadwell but knew Dad would not be going back for him. It was already too late for my teacher. At last, Dad did come out and I exhaled a prayer of relief. The fire was taking on force: The whole chapel seemed to shudder, like a witch’s oven in a cartoon, something the witch could command to do evil if she wanted to. But Dad was out. I could see my father’s gray eyes behind his goggles, and it was almost as though he spoke to me: Sicily. I’m okay! I promise! Would I let you down? I’m the Cap. I’m the Daddy. Whatever else was happening around him, he reassured me. He never understated the dangers of his job, but he called them “manageable, with common sense.” He made me think—long past the age when most kids stop believing in their fathers as mythic beings—that he was the barrier evil could not cross.
Dad must have heard a sound. He jerked and looked over his shoulder.
I think I saw skinny little Danny Furtosa at the same time my father did. Danny was standing about halfway between the door and the altar, with his hair on fire. This flat line of muddy smoke had begun to descend from the chapel’s ceiling, layering down atop the glow of the fire—something I had seen only on my dad’s five million or so accident-scene videos, which I was never supposed to watch but, of course, did. I knew that my dad was measuring that bank of smoke against the distance between him and Danny and hoping he had five seconds, which I knew even then could be plenty of time. And still, I tried to scream for him not to go. My mouth didn’t open. My neck didn’t lurch, the way it does when you gather your vocal chords to shout. I thought it was just smoke—and fear—clogging my voice, shoving it down.
It wouldn’t have mattered. He would have gone anyway.
He got far enough to pick Danny up. And then there was a sharp musical burst as one of my dad’s crew, Tom McAvoy or Schmitty, used a pike pole to slam in one of the old leaded windows. My father and Danny Furtosa disappeared in the unfurling red velvet of the flashover. It foamed toward Renee and me like the disgorged depths of a dragon’s throat. My dad always said there was nothing so pretty as a flashover. Renee said to me, “Oh, my God. Oh, Sicily. Listen. Look at me.” But neither of us could look away. Did I notice, like Renee, how majestic and lovely that flashover was? Of course I did. I was my father’s daughter. He wouldn’t have panicked. And I didn’t panic either. There was still a chance that my dad had survived. He was a twenty-five-year veteran. People lived through flashovers all the time. I knew he would have bad injuries. But that was okay if I could keep him.
The sharp dread for my father was not my only thought in that fractured and fractional moment. Never had I perceived fire as other than mesmerizing—something to be respected for its power but not to be feared, something that my father routinely conquered. Everyone would see the transformation of my face. Everyone with eyes could understand what that did to me. Not even I would grasp how powerful was the simultaneous denaturing of my being, the part no one could see, and how that shift would shape my life as much.
If it hadn’t been for that ten minutes ten days after my thirteenth birthday, I would have grown up exactly the same as a million other kids just like me.
The fire happened during the last hour of class on the last day of school before Christmas vacation at Holy Angels Catholic School. My father was forty-four years old, captain of Ladder 19, Engine Company 3, in Chester, Illinois, just outside Chicago. At the scene, his primary role should have been making sure where everyone was, but he and Renee were first on scene and the fire was too bad to follow procedure exactly: There were kids involved, and one of them was me. Although Dad would have expected that the training would take over, smooth as a motor starting, and that he would act no differently than he would if his kid wasn’t inside, I didn’t believe that then and I don’t now. Still, he and Renee carried thirty-four to safety out of that gruesome, impossible, inaccessible little place, and twenty-six kids lived. No one could have done more. My father was a hero because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time too—damaged, but a survivor. But I was part of that fire too—and though I had nothing to do with it, I was in some measure responsible, just as you are in some measure responsible when a car rear-ends your car, because you’re there. If you set a fire, even a campfire, the law says you’re responsible for whatever it burns. If you could have put that fire out and you didn’t, you’re responsible. If I had been home sick that day—and I was sick, a little, and my mother wanted me to stay home, because she was wacky-protective if I even sniffled—my father still would have answered the three-eleven alarm. Would he have gone the extra distance? I used to toss that back and forth, thinking at first, maybe not; Dad was by the book. He said that his best friend, Schmitty, had “hero genes,” but that he himself did not. What my dad would have wanted was to be with me at the hospital that night, holding my mom on his lap like a child as she cried.
To my best friend, Kit Mulroy, and me, my parents’ displays were humiliating. They’d been married since they were twenty-three and he still called her “my bride.” My mother was at the hospital that night, alone—with her sister and her parents and my friends’ parents, yes, but entirely alone.
My father died where he stood, from his injuries. He would have been able to brace for it. He would still have been breathing air from his mask. When he put it on, I knew, he had twelve minutes, and the whole thing lasted no longer than six. When the hoses fought it all down—it couldn’t have taken long, less than a minute?—leaving the chapel a thick, charred hulk, its medieval walls gruffly upstanding, the water along the roofline already slushing to a filthy glaze, I was still kneeling in the snow. It went that quickly. From behind me, I felt the urgent, gentle hands of the medics helping me onto a rolling stretcher. Everywhere, by then, were paramedics, from towns all over, their vans filling the circle and lunging up over the high curbs onto the lawn, rushing to the kids around me. Some kids the medics just knelt to touch and then quickly, softly, laid a blanket over them, as though tucking them in, and walked past. Of course I knew why. Other kids they grabbed up, starting chest compressions and shoving oxygen masks on, yelling like athletes breaking the tape when they got a breath. It took so long for me to get out of there, because my cart’s wheels got stuck in the snow. Renee tried to stand in front of me, but I saw guys from my father’s crew bringing him out—in their arms, not on a bed. Dad still held Danny Furtosa in his arms. Danny’s face was pushed tight against my dad’s chest. In the end, Dad was old- fashioned South Side Irish, a certain kind of guy.
Even if he could have ducked and run to me, he wouldn’t have wanted a little kid to die alone.
-- Gail Erich Book Developer Scribe Inc. scribenet.com
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From the Hardcover edition.
Meet the Author
Jacquelyn Mitchard is the New York Times bestselling author of The Deep End of the Ocean, the first Oprah’s Book Club selection, as well as No Time to Wave Goodbye and fifteen other books for both adults and children. A former syndicated columnist, she is a contributing editor for Parade magazine and founder of One Writer’s Place, an artist’s residence. Her work has appeared in More, Reader’s Digest, Good Housekeeping, and Real Simple, among other publications. Mitchard lives in Wisconsin with her family.
From the Hardcover edition.
- Madison, Wisconsin
- Place of Birth:
- Chicago, Illinois
- B.A. in English, Rockford College, 1973
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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With "Second Nature", Jacquelyn Mitchard is holding her heart in her hands, and is asking all of us to do the same...to really take a good, long look at what is going on inside us all. Once again, this excellent wordsmith fashions an engaging story from many occurences that might befall any of us. She draws us into a near-future world where science has become reality. She puts us on a rollercoaster of emotions : love, fear, anquish, bravery, despair, loneliness and triumph all merge together in this moving tale of Sicily Coyne, a young woman, who at age 13 had survived a terrible fire, but had been horribly disfigured by it, physically and emotionally. I challenge anyone to read Ms. Mitchard's description of that fire and NOT be affected in some way; I found myself haunted by it. Her words will mesmerize and terrify you simultaneously, and at the end of the first chapter you will not be able to put the book down. Extremely realistic conversations between her characters have always been one of Ms. Mitchard's fortes. You often feel you're eavesdropping - listening in on something personal and private. Sicily's story will allow you many chances to listen in, and, in turn, consider 'what would I have done? or said? or felt?' This novel is sure to be a book club treasure, as there will be so many avenues to explore and so very many questions to discuss. Ms. Mitchard paints a moving picture of the human condition, with all it's flaws and messes, but leaves us with a lasting view of the unending and amazing beauty of living.
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A wonderful book that I could not put down!
This was a story that didn't seem to know what it was about. Jumping all over the place, it was difficult to get into and Made for a very interesting book club discussion. (no one liked it.)
Every now and again you run across a character that you find yourself relating to more than any character you have read in a while. For me that was the case with Sicily Coyne in Jacquelyn Mitchard's new book, Second Nature. You may recognize the Cappadora name from Mitchard's most famous work, The Deep End of the Ocean. I honestly did not put it all together until I went back and read the synopsis more than half way through the book. You do get to catch up with several of the characters from that story, but the heart of Second Nature belongs to Sicily. I am giving Second Nature a "Best of 2011" tag because of the feelings evoked by Sicily and her story. I cried when she cried and I felt extremely protective of her during certain sections. But most of all because her story touched my heart and stayed with me days after finishing. Who doesn't love a book that does that?
I love Mitchard and how she writes. I always feel that I am "in the skin" of her characters. This one misses the mark by a long shot. While I think she does a great job with the main character, I had trouble with the motives of the others. I never could figure out Vincent and what he really wanted. And Joey? His thought process and disappearance from the book should have been more explored. A good story that could have been better. Oh well, I'll read her next one.
This book had me engrossed from the beginning. Not only does the story move along expertly, you are really in the heads of every main character through their journeys. What each of these characters experience is something I can't come close to relating to, but the book opens your eyes to a whole new compassion for what severely burned victims must endure, and the struggles they face - inwardly and outwardly. The medical knowledge was amazing too - the author definitely did her research. The book is also ahead of its time for what could be the "face" of face transplants. We may get there sooner than we think. Thanks Ms. Mitchard for a novel that was wonderful on so many levels!
Sicily Coyn lost her father and was horribly burned in a fire when she was 13 years old. Twelve years later, Sicily has grown into an accomplished adult with a close circle of family and friends who see beyond her scars. When a doctor offers her a chance to have a face transplant, she refuses, feeling like she doesn't need it to live a good life. When she learns some hard truths about her fiance and calls off the wedding, she changes her mind about the surgery and places herself, and her family, on an unforgettable path. (If you read The Deep End of the Ocean, you will become reacquainted with the Cappadora family.) This book reaches out and grabs you on so many levels that it's hard to put it all in writing. First of all, the description of Sicily's life before she decides to have the transplant is what really makes the book. I think many readers wished that she would just get it done already, but in order to appreciate the after, you must know the before. On the surface Sicily is confident, but beneath that facade is a woman who believes deep down that she must settle for what she can get. Mitchard obviously did research on burn victims and what they go through after they try to rejoin the life they had before their circumstances changed. The deep and bitter-sweetness that is infused into the decision making process makes you wonder, along with Sicily, whether this is the right decision for her. Her life after the transplant is all about discovery; not only a discovery of a new life with a new face, but of who she really is and how much her injury has crippled her emotionally. It's in the second half of the book that we find her more isolated than she ever was with a disfigured face. A dramatic turn of events forces her into isolation and gives her a chance to appreciate, worry, and examine who she really is and what she really wants. This is not a conventional love story and it's not a romance novel. There are no neat little packages to be wrapped up at the end. This is a story that is engaging and emotional, with decisions that stay with you long after the story has ended. I gave this book 4 stars.