Should You Read Face by Joma West?

The cover of Face, showing an abstract face formed in the negative space of colored abstract shapes

“When he wasn’t working, Menial 63700578 went by the name of Jake. Jake wanted to get his hands on Madeleine Burroughs. He wanted to run his fingers through her thick chestnut hair and possibly, maybe, perhaps, get close enough to her so he could draw in her scent.”

– Opening of Face

Face is a sci fi dystopia depicting a world where everything is about appearances. Online identities are carefully curated and used to determine social standing. Prospective spouses choose each other based on how it will affect their image. Prospective parents get their children from shops that promise to make them a baby matching their exact aesthetic preferences. No one shows their true emotions or their true selves. Even physically touching another person is no longer done. And on the lowest rung of the social ladder are people known as menials, designed to be expendable servants, supposedly with no real thoughts or feelings of their own. Life is exhausting, unfulfilling, and arguably without meaning, and one family is about to hit its breaking point.

I found the most distinctive thing about this book to be its plot structure. Rather than sticking close to one or two protagonists and following their story from beginning to end, this book is told from many perspectives, each one circling around the ostensible protagonists and often retelling events that were already told in another one. In a way, it is the story of one family, but really it seemed more like a microcosm of this dystopian society, in which I didn’t care about the individual characters so much as what their perspectives could reveal about the world around them. There is one particular plot event that is not fully revealed until the end, for which I did find myself wanting to read on, but mostly the driver of my page turns was my own desire to discover.

That being said, the book left several questions about the world unanswered, including some of those I was most interested in. I also found myself skimming large portions because conversations between two characters that were portrayed in two different perspectives often didn’t reveal much new information the second time around. I’m not sure if this is due to the fact that I have an unusually good memory or if I was unusually good at guessing what the second character was thinking and feeling without needing it to be told to me through their perspective, or if this would be a common experience, however.

So, all that being said, I think the people who will get the most satisfaction out of reading this book are those who enjoy this unconventional plot structure and the way it circles around a central “what happened?” sort of mystery. If seeing events replayed from a different perspective makes you think about them more deeply or reconsider how you thought of them the first time around, this might be the book for you. If you’re intrigued by the idea of being able to explore a dystopian world through the eyes of many different characters at different levels of society, you might also enjoy it in a similar way to what I did. There definitely were strong points in the world building that intrigued me or horrified me or made me think, but you will have to be content with coming up with your own theories to answer those unanswered questions in order to get full enjoyment. Perhaps this is a book that would do well in a book club, generating discussions about this world and our own.

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