I was one of the 20 gazillion people who read Jacquelyn Mitchard's "Deep End of the Ocean" way back when it was an Oprah book, and when it was made into a movie starring Michelle Pfeiffer. I loved it but it disturbed me deeply. Briefly, the story was about a photographer (Beth Cappadora) who turns her back on her two sons for only a moment in a hotel lobby, when the youngest, Ben, is kidnapped by a mentally ill woman. Nine years later, after utter destruction of the family, Ben is discovered and brought back home.
When I was approached recently by Maria at Random House to review Mitchard's new book (in which the Cappadora family plays an important but supporting role in the plot) I jumped at the opportunity to experience her work once again, and to find out what was going on with the family that simultaneously stole and broke my heart all those years ago.
Synopsis: Sicily Coyne was only 13-years old when she lost her face in a fire that also killed her firefighter father. Soon after, she lost her mother in a tragic accident. Her life has been spent being raised by a dynamic and loving aunt, and undergoing dozens of surgeries and battling infections. Sicily is now a confident young woman, an accomplished medical illustrator, and is engaged to a man who knew her before her face was a horrifying mask. When she is approached by Eliza Cappadora, a transplant surgeon (and coincidentally, married to the once-abducted Ben Cappadora), for a revolutionary face transplant, Sicily refuses. Why would she want to endure yet another surgery, and risk an infection or even her life for superficial beauty?
A devastating heartbreak, however, changes Sicily's perspective, and she decides to receive a face transplant from a young woman who is in an irreversible coma. Sicily enlists Beth Cappadora, who is a still a photographer, to document the journey. Sicily faces a future of beauty, but also a lifetime of anti-rejection drugs and possible relapses, and the probability of not being able to have children because of these medications. Everything, it seems, has a price.
As Sicily becomes more and more a part of the Cappadora family, and experiences a life she never dreamed she would have, she is suddenly faced with some unexpected, controversial and ethical dilemmas. Ones that are of life and death, loneliness and happiness, of life stifled or liberated.
My thoughts: This is one of those books that it pays not to know TOO much about the plot. I promise you I have been vague enough in my description to keep you protected! And the plot was all over the place...this was truly a four-dimensional book. There are dozens of threads, of discussion-worthy choices and dilemmas. Enough to make a book club swoon.
I was thrilled to see the Cappadoras again. On the surface, they had all grown up and gone on with their lives since Ben's abduction. But there were scars underneath that affected every move they made, that affected not only their family but Sicily as well.
I enjoyed Sicily as a protagonist. She was full of piss and vinegar, having developed an outer shell of humor and barbed sarcasm to help her cope with her disfigurement. She had a mildly annoying way of pushing people away at times, but completely understandable. Any lesser of a personality would not have been able to pull off this role.
While the story captured my heart and mind in the first half of the book, however, I became slightly disenchanted in the last half. The plot did a 90 degree turn into a completely different direction, which, in principle, I was OK with. But it became bogged down with a confusing quagmire of awkward relationship angst. The dialogue was out of sync, and I never really knew what was going on after there had been one of many of these "discussions", which were painful to me. Was it all realistic? Yes probably. Relationships are often this way. But it slowed down the momentum of the book.
I still would recommend the book however. Face transplants absolutely FASCINATE me. I had to Google some real-life examples, and I just shake my head at the magic created at the hands of today's surgeons. Mitchard's writing is also compelling and creates characters that feel like they are about to walk off the pages and into your life.
4 out of 5 stars