Adams leaves a legacy in this short, inventive, and anguished story, which mirrors the late author’s own devastatingly short life and in the end offers a glimmer of hope. Mil, a skilled sculptor who was abandoned in the woods as a child, is shunned and ridiculed by local villagers because of his disfigured face. He’s the prime target for a classic Faustian bargain: as he treks through the woods one day, he happens upon a mask that offers him a deal—become beautiful in exchange for a promise to perform a task that will be revealed later. If Mil does not complete the task, the mask will be destroyed, and he will revert to his “present form—a freak.” Will Mil take the deal, and, if he does, will he pay the price?
Reminiscent of Hans Christian Andersen's original fairy tales, where children often live and work (and face weird horror) independently, this middle-grade fable manages to confront the very real cruelties and choices children have faced throughout time—such as bullying and whether to conform or stand out—without ever coming across as too grisly. However, while this is a tale and message as old as time, instead of ending on a happy and comfortable note like many modern and contemporary works, Adams closes with a provocative cliffhanger, sending the true but uncomfortable message that you never can know how others might react to your true self, but that it’s urgent to risk it anyway.
This brief but substantial story is heightened by effective and affecting prose (“Mil felt suddenly unclean in the presence of the mask. It was alive.:”) as well as Rohan Daniel Eason's eye-catching, evocative illustrations, often reminiscent in their spareness and line work of classic woodcuts. Adams’s family has done his work proud with this illustrated edition, and Adams deserves posthumous praise for capturing a timeless message with singular power.
Takeaway: Fans of vintage, creepy fairy tales will find more than a moral in this short but moving story.
Great for fans of: Hans Christian Andersen, Sally Gardner’s Tinder.
Production grades Cover: A Design and typography: A Illustrations: A Editing: A Marketing copy: A
"Wow softly escaped my lips as I finished the final page of this story…[The Mask] is a great awakening to bullying, pressures, and the price they extract without mercy."
Darleen Wohlfeil, StoryMonsters Ink Magazine
"The writing and illustrations are truly remarkable…I think every middle school child and older should read this and be part of the discussion. The story is universally relatable."
Lynn A Paulus, Psy.D, Licensed Clinical Psychologist
A boy ridiculed for his deformities may find the price of beauty is too high in this posthumous graphic novel.
Mil lives alone in the forest; his parents abandoned him. Because of his misshapen face and body, villagers deride and even threaten the boy. He scrapes by selling his wooden sculptures, though most people steer clear of him. While walking through the woods, Mil finds a mask. It speaks to him and promises to make him handsome—the object of men’s envy and women’s gazes. All Mil must do in return is “perform a service” for the Mask someday. Though hesitant, he agrees, and the Mask fuses with his face and changes his appearance. Now people find Mil attractive and revel in his company. He opens up his own shop and falls in love. Then the day finally arrives when the Mask makes its demand, asking Mil to do something unimaginable. He must decide if he can live the life he wants with the deformed body he once had. This story, written when Adams was 16, is a remarkable allegory with a superb open ending. The pale white Mask boasts a physical beauty society seemingly craves, while its “soulless eyes” reveal an emotional deficiency. It’s easy to sympathize with the sensitive Mil; people dub him “the freak” or “the monster.” But he’s likable throughout; he falls for a woman who’s more interested in his sculptures than his looks. At the same time, the Mask is suitably menacing; its more human qualities prove the most sinister, like its “sly smirk.” Complementing Adams’ prose, Eason renders an expressive, sometimes maniacal-looking Mask, which understandably troubles Mil. Muted colors give the illustrations a deeper, subtle allure, like Mil himself. A loving tribute at the book’s end comes courtesy of Adams’ family.
A young, laudable voice tells an indelible story of acceptance and prejudice.