Face by Benjamin Zephaniah

A review of the literary children’s novel Face by Benjamin Zephaniah.

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Face was written by Benjamin Zephaniah in 1999, and was his first novel after he gained notoriety as a poet. It follows teenage Martin on his journey of self-discovery after a serious accident leaves him severely burnt across his body, but mostly on his face.

The book is set in a fairly ethnically-diverse area of London and – before his accident – Martin is relatively prejudiced towards the majority of people who are different to him. As a white male, Martin had not really come across any level of adversity in his life until he was scarred, but after he finds life more challenging. His friends begin to drift away from him, his girlfriend leaves him and, generally, people start treating him differently because of the way he looks with the burns.

Martin gets reconstructive surgery but it doesn’t restore his face to its prior condition. Throughout his encounters and experiences that result from this, he learns the error of his ways and realises that you shouldn’t treat people based on how they look but on the person that they are.

I first read this book in school when I was twelve or thirteen and I wasn’t a fan, if I’m honest. Having said that, looking at the piece in a more objective manner, I can see the positives that the book does bring, and I have since gone back and given it another try. It’s written in such a way that it feels like an adult book; not something aimed at children or young adults. This is perhaps what pulled me away from the story when I read it first, but equally with others I know it is what drew them in and is the very reason why they loved it.

Zephaniah refrains from condescension yet passionately imparts his point. The writing, characters and character development are all good. It is well-written and done in such a way that conveys quite a serious message without preaching to the reader or talking down to them. I find, quite frequently, that young adult books written with a message in mind are often done very poorly, with the whole ethos of the book being rammed down your throat or told in a patronising manner. Face doesn’t do this. It is a fantastically well-done book that is definitely worth your time reading, and something that young people should certainly experience as well.

Davina Chime is a Thanet-born hopeless romantic.

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