Sara's Face by Melvin Burgess

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Sara's Face by Melvin Burgess

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Told in a true-crime, reportage style, this is a chilling and satirical look on our obsessions with fame, image, and plastic surgery. Burgess takes the usual risks - gotta love this guy - and whether or not you'll enjoy it boils down to whether or not you appreciate the "written down" style. Bookbag loved it.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: January 2008
Publisher: Puffin Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0141316321

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Sara Carter wants to be famous. She wants to be remembered. How, why and for what is by-the-bye. She just wants to be famous. And with her innate sense of the dramatic and impeccable timing, no one who knows her would be in the least bit surprised to see Sara hit the headlines. However, underneath the obsession with celebrity Sara is brittle, fragile; struggling with self-image and identity, it seems possible that she is hovering on the edge of a personality disorder.

Hospitalised with facial burns likely more to do with self-harm than an accident with an iron as she claims, Sara falls under the spell of Jonathon Heat. Heat is a rock star whose constant reincarnations have given his fame a longevity that has come at a terrible price. His face is utterly ravaged by plastic surgery. Sara's face bears a striking resemblance to Heat's before it was ruined. Heat's cutting edge surgeon has a known interest in face transplants. You can probably guess the rest...

I'm absolutely, wholly in awe of Melvin Burgess. He is so fearless. He takes huge risks with his books - such a rare thing in a writer for children. The most controversial of them, even the best of them, so often play it safe. Not so Mr Burgess. Sara's Face is written in a true-crime-come-reportage style, so not only do we have a thriller in which even the cover of the book is a spoiler, but we also have a story in which the teller is deliberately writing, well, less well than usual. What a gamble.

Whether or not this gamble pays off rests on the reader's perception of this central theme of image and identity. Is all fame bad? Is celebrity an utter sham? Will it necessarily corrupt? I found Sara's Face eerie, compelling and utterly distasteful. I couldn't put it down. At no point did I feel that the conceits ruined the tension; rather, they added to my revulsion and sense of compulsion. After the denouement, I had to think seriously about the almost prurient interest it had hooked from me. I cannot think of another children's writer quite so remorseless in his challenge to the reader. Bravo. Standing ovation. Gushing and more gushing. I love it.

Sara's Face isn't going to appeal to every reader. It's easy to read but it is also bloody difficult to read. Don't give it to the safe, fainthearted reader, but do give it to every vital, strong young person you know who has a burning desire to engage with the world around them. They will love it.

My thanks to the good people at Puffin for sending the book.

Those who enjoy a thoughtful exploration of identity might also enjoy Being by Kevin Brooks, which looks at what it is to be human in a novel reminiscent of Bladerunner or She, Myself and I by Emma Young. Melvin Burgess enjoyed Student by David Belbin.

Booklists.jpg Sara's Face by Melvin Burgess is in the Top Ten Teen Books That Adults Should Read.

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Buy Sara's Face by Melvin Burgess at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Sara's Face by Melvin Burgess at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Sara's Face by Melvin Burgess at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Sara's Face by Melvin Burgess at


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Magda said:

I have just read his Bloodsong which is a dystopian-future-retelling of the Volsung Saga (aka the Ring of the Nibelung), or rather part of it from the killimg of the dragon to Sigurd's death; excellent, repulsively compeeling, as dark if not darker than the original tale, utterly brilliant. And the only thing that actually bothers me in it all is why the hell is this considered to be children's or even young adults' writing? Do you know the mysteries of classification? Because clearly not every book with a 16 year old hero is classified like that?


Jill replied:

Yes, you need to read Bloodtide also. These two are Conor's favouritest ever books. I think they are absolutely superb. There's an excellent video of Burgess talking about it on I would like to see him try for something slightly less dark like Beowulf and see how he treats that. Um... because it's written for children?! You have an alarming conception that if something is good or in the least bit sophisticated, it can't really be for children you know!