BookBrowse Reviews Your Face in Mine by Jess Row

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  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 2014, 384 pages
    Aug 2015, 448 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Morgan Macgregor

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 August 2014, and has been updated for the August 2015 paperback release. 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" backstories
  • 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 $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Baltimore's Literary History

One-Month Free Membership

Discover your next great read here

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Castle of Water
    Castle of Water
    by Dane Huckelbridge
    When a whopping 24 out of 27 readers give a book 4 or 5 stars, you know you have a winner on your ...
  • Book Jacket: Havana
    by Mark Kurlansky
    History with flavor...culture with spice...language with would be hard to find a better ...
  • Book Jacket: Temporary People
    Temporary People
    by Deepak Unnikrishnan
    In this powerful and innovative collection of 28 short stories, Deepak Unnikrishnan presents a ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Nest
by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

A funny and acutely perceptive debut about four siblings and the fate of their shared inheritance.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Manderley Forever
    by Tatiana de Rosnay

    Bestselling author Tatiana de Rosnay pays homage to Daphne du Maurier.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Stars Are Fire
    by Anita Shreve

    An exquisitely suspenseful novel about an extraordinary young woman tested by a catastrophic event.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

When all think alike, no one thinks very much

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

Word Play

Solve this clue:

Y S M B, I'll S Y

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

Modal popup -