BookBrowse has a new look! Learn more about the update here.

BookBrowse Reviews Your Face in Mine by Jess Row

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Read-Alikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Your Face in Mine by Jess Row

Your Face in Mine

by Jess Row
  • Critics' Opinion:
  • Readers' Opinion:
  •  Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
  • Aug 14, 2014
  • Paperback:
  • Aug 2015
  • Rate this book

  • Buy This Book

About This Book



Despite its outlandish plot, Your Face in Mine makes many spot-on observations about cultural and racial alienation in our contemporary times.

Kelly, a white man, is walking across the parking lot of a grocery store, when he sees a black man walking toward him. He knows he has never seen this person before, but he cannot shake the feeling that he knows him somehow. As they move towards each other, the feeling becomes unshakable, until finally their paths cross and the black man says to him, "Kelly. I bet you're wondering why I know your name." Kelly responds, "I'm sorry. Do I know you?" And the black man says, "It's Martin."

Kelly's initial feeling makes sense then: Martin was one of his best friends in high school, they played in a band together, and so of course Kelly would recognize him. But it also makes no sense: Martin was white. Twenty years later, here he is standing in front of Kelly, undeniably Martin, but a black man.

Here is the passage that follows, in the opening pages of Your Face in Mine, Jess Row's riveting debut novel:

As a child I imagined there were hidden places — the tangle of bushes dividing the north and south lanes of the freeway, the fenced-in, overgrown side yard on the far side of our elderly neighbor's house — that held gaps, portholes, in the fabric of the world, and if I crawled into one of them I would become one of the disappeared children whose faces appeared on circulars and milk cartons and Girl Scout cookie boxes, whose cold bodies were orbiting the earth as we spoke, and every so often bumped into the Space Shuttle and slid off, unbeknownst to the astronauts inside. How was I supposed to know that I would only have to cross town to find my own gap, my own way into the beyond?

As it turns out, Martin's perplexing reappearance in Kelly's life has come at a perfect time. After the sudden death of his wife and daughter, Kelly has recently returned to Baltimore, where he spent his youth. Unmoored, "a kind of obelisk of grief," he takes a job at a public radio station that he knows is a sinking ship. One can see he's waiting for something to happen. Enter Martin, who says he is the world's first successful beneficiary of "racial reassignment surgery," and who has a curious business proposal for his friend: sign on to write the story of Martin's life.

In a sense, Kelly's relationship with this new Martin is a classic journey "down the rabbit hole," with every level of reality giving way to a deeper one. What keeps it interesting is the question of Kelly's motivation; at times it's clear why he's going along with Martin's increasingly ominous grand plan (in other words, what he's getting out of it), but when talk turns to a tragedy that happened in their senior year of high school — the event that ultimately drove them apart for twenty years — the reader begins to suspect that there are deeper, darker intentions at play for both men. In a way, reading the book itself is also a dive down the rabbit hole.

The weightier subjects explored here — identity, race, addiction, crime, politics, poverty — provide more than enough sustenance to satisfy, but there are smaller morsels to be savored too, like the nostalgia factor. Much of the novel reads like a veritable cultural playlist of the '80s and '90s, calling up the music, movies, trends, and news stories most readers will no doubt remember. And then there is Row's finely tuned language. In particular, I was often delighted by his small turn of phrase: a man's nose is "like a lump of pancake batter dropped onto the griddle of his face;" a closed laptop sits alone on a table, "a mute clam;" a mother and daughter ride to a funeral "in the backseat...collapsed against either door, their black dresses folded about them, like dying crows."

The beautifully controlled language helps keep a fairly outlandish plot seem entirely plausible, but in the end what truly grounds readers in the world we know is the smaller story beneath the larger one: the story of childhood friends, how they change us, and what becomes of them.

Reviewed by Morgan Macgregor

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in August 2014, and has been updated for the October 2015 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Baltimore's Literary History


Read-Alikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked Your Face in Mine, try these:

  • A Lucky Man jacket

    A Lucky Man

    by Jamel Brinkley

    Published 2019

    About This book

    More by this author

    Jamel Brinkley's stories reflect the tenderness and vulnerability of black men and boys whose hopes sometimes betray them, especially in a world shaped by race, gender, and class - where luck may be the greatest fiction of all.

  • The Black Witch jacket

    The Black Witch

    by Laurie Forest

    Published 2018

    About This book

    A new Black Witch will rise…her powers vast beyond imagining.

We have 8 read-alikes for Your Face in Mine, but non-members are limited to two results. To see the complete list of this book's read-alikes, you need to be a member.
More books by Jess Row
Search read-alikes
How we choose read-alikes

Become a Member

Join BookBrowse today to start
discovering exceptional books!
Find Out More

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: The Coin
    The Coin
    by Yasmin Zaher
    A popular choice for book jackets in recent years, perhaps especially in the historical fiction ...
  • Book Jacket: The Night of Baba Yaga
    The Night of Baba Yaga
    by Akira Otani, Sam Bett
    When Yoriko Shindo gets into a brawl on a busy street in 1970s Tokyo, she has no idea what the ...
  • Book Jacket: The Anthropologists
    The Anthropologists
    by Aysegül Savas
    A documentary filmmaker, Asya is interested in the "unremarkable grace" of daily life, "the slow and...
  • Book Jacket: Mood Swings
    Mood Swings
    by Frankie Barnet
    This book begins with a bombastic premise. Seemingly fed up with the heating planet, the world's ...

BookBrowse Book Club

Book Jacket
The 1619 Project
by Nikole Hannah-Jones
An impactful expansion of groundbreaking journalism, The 1619 Project offers a revealing vision of America's past and present.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Very Long, Very Strange Life of Isaac Dahl
    by Bart Yates

    A saga spanning 12 significant days across nearly 100 years in the life of a single man.


Solve this clue:

L T C O of the B

and be entered to win..

Who Said...

I always find it more difficult to say the things I mean than the things I don't.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.