I didn’t read this book as a teenager. It was published in 1996 when I was in college. But I saw this in the used bookstore and took one look at this amazing cover and I knew this was a Lurlene McDaniel book I had to have.
Carley Mattea is sixteen years old and she’s in the hospital. A rollerblading accident left her with a broken leg, which wasn’t healing because her leg got infected, so she’s in for leg surgery plus IV antibiotics. It’s not life-threatening, but Carley is no stranger to hospital stays. Four years earlier she’d had a cancerous tumor removed from her left nasal passage. While she’s now considered cured from the cancer, that surgery left her with major facial deformities.
Carley and her hospital pal, Reba (who has Spina Bifida and is in the hospital for abdominal surgery) are excited when a new boy is admitted to their floor. Carley can’t sleep one night and walks into his room and notices his eyes are bandaged. The boy is Kyle Westin and he had a chemistry accident (he and his friends were fucking around and making their own rocket fuel when it exploded in his face) which injured his eyes. It’s unknown whether or not he will ever regain his vision.
Carley and Kyle hit it off, but Carley doesn’t want him to know she has a deformed face. So when Kyle’s therapist recommends “seeing” with his eyes, she won’t let him touch her face, instead telling him that she knows he’s going to get his vision back and she wants him to ‘see’ her for the first time when he’s got it back. They spend their days chatting and dealing with being sick and being in the hospital. Kyle doesn’t know how Carley can understand what he’s going through so well. After all, she’s only there with a broken leg. Carley doesn’t tell him about the cancer.
Carley’s sister, Janelle, has a boyfriend who Carley hates. It turns out she’d overheard Jon talking shit about her face once. So one day when Kyle’s friends come to see him in the hospital, he wants Carley to come in the room to meet them. Carley convinces Janelle to do go in her place (by guilt-tripping Janelle’s boyfriend into convincing her it’s a good idea). Kyle wouldn’t know because he can’t see, and his friends can be impressed by the good-looking Janelle and won’t tell him about her face. Janelle is appalled, but is convinced. Reba is beside herself with disgust at this lie to Kyle.
They manage to pull it off, and Carley only feels worse about herself when Kyle tells her that his friends thought she was pretty. Carley gets released from the hospital and makes a decision not to think about Kyle any more. But Kyle calls her a few times. And when he has the good news that his vision is returning, he wants to see her. Carley chickens out and says that she has a boyfriend and can’t see him. Though she makes another convoluted plan involving Janelle and her boyfriend (which Janelle doesn’t even know about) so he can at least ‘see’ what ‘Carley’ looks like.
It seems to work, but one day Kyle stops by the bookstore that Carley’s parents own while she’s working there and the whole truth comes out. Kyle is angry at her lies, and Carley refuses to see that that is why he’s angry. She believes he is deep-down disgusted by her face. They get into a big fight and he stalks off. But a few weeks later is Valentine’s Day and there is a big ruckus at school, because some guy is flying a small plane over their school with a banner that says ‘Carley, Be Mine. K.W.’ So, you know, maybe he likes her for her after all.
- HOLY SHIT A LURLENE MCDANIEL BOOK WHERE NO ONE DIES. I thought for sure Reba was going to die in surgery. What are you playing at Lurlene? I read your book expecting…nay, DEMANDING young dead people. I’ve called your books Death Porn for Teens for so long and you’re just making a liar out of me.
- Most L McD books are flat out terrible. This one was terrible, but underneath the layer of terribleness, I feel like there was a good story hiding there. Somewhere. Maybe.
- Janelle’s boyfriend Jon is fucking terrible, but not because he made fun of Carley once. He’s terrible because he’s possessive of Janelle to a point that is dangerous and creepy. But it’s only because he loooooves her so much, so it’s totally OK and the womenz are only property anyway. Lurlene is not only not a feminist, she’s actively anti-feminist.
- Oh, ugh. The Lurlene-errific dialogue. When Jon apologizes to Carley he says, “I was smarting off for the guys. Acting like a big shot.” Because that’s completely how eighteen year old guys talk.
- Carley uses humor as a defense mechanism. Well, she uses a special Lurlene-ified brand of ‘humor.’ When Reba says maybe Kyle would like Carley in spite of her appearance, Carley says, “Sure…and if cows could fly, we’d all be wearing football helmets.” HAHAHAHAHA. *wipes eyes*
- “Reba, get a grip. In the years between twelve and twenty, guys don’t think with their brains or see with their eyes, They see through the eyes of all their friends.” I actually thought Lurlene was going to make a dick joke there.
- Carley is shocked when she finds out Reba has a boyfriend. The boyfriend has cerebral palsy and he comes over to Reba’s house to watch videos. They go to the same special ed school. But Reba has Spina Bifida, which hasn’t affected her mind at all. And this guy has CP, which I know CAN affect the mind, but if he’s at school with Reba we can assume his hasn’t. So, why are they in special ed school? If their handicaps are only physical in nature, they should be in regular classes, right?
- This book was published in 1996, and in the back there’s an ad for LurleneMcDaniel.com. I’m actually sort of impressed that she had an internet presence that early. The website is still in existence.
- Also at the end of the book Carley goes to see a plastic surgeon who will be able to help her face. But the important thing is that Kyle didn’t even know about the plastic surgery when he flew that plane. So, you know, good for Kyle.