Maisie, on a morning jog, becomes the victim of a freak accident. Lightening strikes a tree causing a large branch to fall on electrical wires and Maisie is severely burned. She does not remember the event, but wakes in the hospital after being in a medically induced coma. Before the accident she was looking forward to Junior Prom, her jogs, and trying to ignore her fighting parents. Now, waking months after the accident her injuries are worse than 3rd degree burns. With half of her face gone, bones missing, and bandages along the left side of her body, Maisie’s life is altered forever.
With the possibility of a partial face transplant, Maisie must face (no pun intended) if moving on means moving on without the face she has known. Can she return to her old life, but with a new face? The transplant would possibly allow her to smell, taste, and feel the skin on her face, which is what she wants, but the thought of someone else’s face staring back in a reflection might be more difficult than healing physically.
As Maisie struggles to adjust both in the new flesh and immerse herself back into the high school setting, she begins a dangerous self-medication, or rather not-medicating. On top of her own thoughts, she also overhears the opinions of her classmates and boyfriend Chirag who are struggling with the “new” Maisie as well. As physical therapy continues, Maisie also goes to a support group with people coping with their physical ailments. There she meets Adam who never knew the “old” Maisie. And in Group, Maisie finally finds people who can understand what she is going through.
“You have to learn to love yourself before you can love someone else. Because it’s only when we love ourselves that we feel worthy of someone else’s love.”
The struggles, insecurities, and anger are truthful and beautifully written. Maisie’s inner thoughts are honest and real, even once she has finished mourning her loss. She has a few moments when she is able to joke and laugh again. The process of healing (or even not healing) is long and different for everyone (as shown by people in her support group) and Sheinmel covers it with care, respect, and realistically. With the whole last section focused on processing information, it being OK to be angry, resentfulness, jealous, and mad at the world, there is precious time given to the process of understanding and the psychological aspects of healing. Maisie constantly refers to her current life as “Maisie 2.0” since she is no longer who she was. But, as the character Adam says, (paraphrasing), life continues to move and experiences shape you, whether old Maisie or 2.0 Maisie were here. The fact is YOU are here and what will YOU do?
This is a beautiful story. A top favorite like All The Bright Places.