Summary and book reviews of Your Face in Mine by Jess Row

Your Face in Mine

by Jess Row

Your Face in Mine
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Aug 2014, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2015, 448 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Morgan Macgregor

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About this Book

Book Summary

An award-winning writer delivers a poignant and provocative novel of identity, race and the search for belonging in the age of globalization.

One afternoon, not long after Kelly Thorndike has moved back to his hometown of Baltimore, an African American man he doesn't recognize calls out to him. To Kelly's shock, the man identifies himself as Martin, who was one of Kelly's closest friends in high school and, before his disappearance nearly twenty years before, skinny, white, and Jewish. Martin then tells an astonishing story: After years of immersing himself in black culture, he's had a plastic surgeon perform - "racial reassignment surgery" - altering his hair, skin, and physiognomy to allow him to pass as African American. Unknown to his family or childhood friends, Martin has been living a new life ever since.

Now, however, Martin feels he can no longer keep his new identity a secret; he wants Kelly to help him ignite a controversy that will help sell racial reassignment surgery to the world. Kelly, still recovering from the death of his wife and child and looking for a way to begin anew, agrees, and things quickly begin to spiral out of control.

Inventive and thought-provoking, Your Face in Mine is a brilliant novel about cultural and racial alienation and the nature of belonging in a world where identity can be a stigma or a lucrative brand.

2.

We cross the parking lot together, Martin, the black man who used to be Martin, ducked slightly behind my right shoulder, flickering in and out of my peripheral vision. Somehow I'm still possessed of enough of my faculties to remember to grab a shopping cart. The sliding door creaks on an unoiled runner, and we breathe in the comforting sting of Asian markets everywhere— dried scallops and mushrooms, wilting choi sum, fish guts in a bucket behind the seafood counter. Mr. Lee looks up at me over yesterday's Apple Daily—when did they start getting the Hong Kong papers?—and says, you're too late, the cha siu bao are all sold out.

It's okay, I say. I need to lose weight anyway.

Yeah, says his daughter, stacking napa cabbages on newspaper in a shopping cart. You're too fat.

Lee gives her a dour Confucian look. Little number three, he says, that's enough out of you. And then, turning to me: is the black man with you? He doesn't speak ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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).

Full Review Members Only (705 words).

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

For all its considerable pretension, Row's debut novel offers few insights into the formation of racial consciousness.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Furiously smart...takes readers on a zesty, twisty, sometimes uncomfortable ride.

Booklist

Starred Review. Row presents wholly credible, if not thoroughly trustworthy, characters and complicated circumstances that will inspire serious reflection.

Library Journal

Starred Review. In this imaginative novel, the author deftly ponders why anyone would choose to usurp his or her past. There are a number of twists along the way, with the ending a particular surprise. This will appeal especially to those who love literary fiction with a thriller's edge.

Author Blurb Richard Price
Anchored by a Swiftian fantasy of racial reassignment surgery, which takes its questing hero from the housing projects of Baltimore to the back streets of Bangkok, Jess Row's Your Face in Mine is one of the most slyly penetrating novels on race and identity politics I've ever had the pleasure of reading.

Author Blurb Martha Southgate, author of The Taste of Salt and Third Girl from the Left
In our time, when race is the most charged, complex (and perhaps most important) subject available for an American writer to take on, it is incredibly rare to encounter a book written by a white man that engages thoroughly, thoughtfully, and thrillingly with that very subject. This is a necessary book.

Author Blurb Victor LaValle, author of The Devil in Silver
This novel reads like Studs Terkel and Philip K. Dick decided to collaborate. It's beautiful and painful, often at the same time.

Author Blurb Karen Russell, author of Vampires in the Lemon Grove and Swamplandia
Row's premise is ingenious, but his execution is even better. He's created a thriller with a human core, powered by guilt, rage, self-loathing, traitorous longing, the claustrophobia of a single life, and the perilous fantasy of escape, rebirth.

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Beyond the Book

Baltimore's Literary History

"Baltimore is warm but pleasant...I belong here, where everything is civilized and gay and rotted and polite."― F. Scott Fitzgerald

When one thinks of literature and American cities, Baltimore may not immediately come to mind. While "Charm City" might not have the apparent prestige of San Francisco or New York, Baltimore's literary history is a long and rich one.

H. L. Mencken, Ogden Nash, Emily Post, Dashiell Hammett, Adrienne Rich, James M. Cain, Upton Sinclair, and Gertrude Stein (among many others) all lived and wrote for a time in Baltimore. The city played a major role in the lives of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, perhaps the Jazz Age's most famous couple, with F. Scott penning Tender Is The Night, there. Russell Baker ...

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