This month we return to our Featured Author segment and will spend the month highlighting the backlist of one of our favorite authors. For June, we will be hosting multi-best selling author Amy Harmon. Harmon is a USA Today, Wall Street Journal and New York Times Bestselling author of seven novels – the USA Today Bestsellers, Making Faces and Running Barefoot, as well as The Law of Moses, Infinity + One, Slow Dance in Purgatory, Prom Night in Purgatory, and the New York Times Bestseller, A Different Blue.
Her newest novel, The Song of David, will be released on June 15, 2015. Amy knew at an early age that writing was something she wanted to do, and she divided her time between writing songs and stories as she grew. Having grown up in the middle of wheat fields without a television, with only her books and her siblings to entertain her, she developed a strong sense of what made a good story. Her books are now being published in several countries, a dream come true for a little country girl from Levan, Utah.
Connect with Amy at the following:
We begin our June Featured Author segment with a review of Making Faces.
Ambrose Young was beautiful. He was tall and muscular, with hair that touched his shoulders and eyes that burned right through you. The kind of beautiful that graced the covers of romance novels, and Fern Taylor would know. She’d been reading them since she was thirteen. But maybe because he was so beautiful he was never someone Fern thought she could have…until he wasn’t beautiful anymore.
Making Faces is the story of a small town where five young men go off to war, and only one comes back. It is the story of loss. Collective loss, individual loss, loss of beauty, loss of life, loss of identity. It is the tale of one girl’s love for a broken boy, and a wounded warrior’s love for an unremarkable girl. This is a story of friendship that overcomes heartache, heroism that defies the common definitions, and a modern tale of Beauty and the Beast, where we discover that there is a little beauty and a little beast in all of us.
Sometimes I wonder what writers think when they write. Do their bad days, their best days, somehow end up between those long descriptions and dialog? Do they discover who they are, what they believe in the words that appear in bleeding black font across the empty screen? Maybe the very best of who we want to be, perhaps who we never want to be, becomes clearer when it finds its way through conflict and toward the climatic conclusions that neatly finish a story.
Maybe, for some writers, the words are nothing more than bits and pieces of their imagination. Maybe for them, it’s simply a nice way to spend their time. Amy Harmon isn’t one of those filling-the-time authors. There is a synergy to her stories that begins with the succinctly layered characters that struggle eternally, externally to find parts of themselves on the page. They are subtle reflections of human nature and the bitter and beautiful paradigms of who we all are.
In Making Faces, Harmon paints a vivid picture. It isn’t one that is overtly complex. In fact, at its basest level, Making Faces is a contemporary retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairytale with the once flawlessly handsome Ambrose Young finding his way from high school and the legendary reputation of being the town’s athletic darling, to hearing the gnawing call inside himself for justice brought forward after the terrorist attacks on 9/11.
Ambrose does not take the road well traveled, the one he is expected to glide along. He instead leads the charge which his friends follow, foregoing college and career for the military life. Yet Ambrose is the only one to return, and what is left of him isn’t the beautiful, charming boy he once was. He is scarred, he is broken and believes that he can only exist in his hometown post-war hidden beneath a hoodie and under the cover of night.
He is comforted only by his guilt and finds no beauty in his life, just the hollow remains of what and who he once was.
Fern Taylor has loved Ambrose since she was too young to understand the concept. She played Cyrano to Ambrose, hiding behind the beautiful face of her best friend when the girl sought Ambrose’s attention. Fern couldn’t, wouldn’t admit what she felt but luxuriated in the words she and Ambrose sent one another. It didn’t matter that her best friend reaped the benefits of how fiercely, intimately Fern stroked Ambrose’s mind. Fern was able to see the true nature of who Ambrose was; she saw what he kept hidden from the world.
And then, their world fractured. Violence, departure, the end of high school, the beginning of a strike against the enemy, and Fern lost Ambrose to time, to pain, only to have him return home more closed off than he had been years before.
So, again, Fern took to the written word, insistently trying to let Ambrose know she remembered who he was, saw a beauty in him that had nothing to do with his past or present face. Ambrose could not accept that he deserved to be loved, despite Fern’s steadfast attention.
‘Could you belong to someone who didn’t want you? Fern decided it was possible because her heart was his, and whether or not he wanted it didn’t seem to make much difference.’
Two young people learning to grow– one away from who he once was, the other toward something she doesn’t fully understand. And in the middle of the two is the voice of reason, passion and the unyielding determination to never, ever give up: Bailey, Fern’s cousin.
These three people are bonded by history, by family, by the love of sport, of hope, of what lies ahead. The future is uncertain, unclear and looming beneath the surface is a heart break that would fracture anyone. But these characters are not carbon copies of angst-ridden stereotypes recycled from romances written over and over. They are real, they are unique and they feel the ache of life with the bitter realism and heartfelt pain we all do.
“Thing about it. There isn’t heartache if there hasn’t been joy. I wouldn’t feel loss if there hadn’t been love.”
It is the depiction of that unwavering love that Harmon excels at. We see the realization of life, all the humor, all the pain in each conflict, in every hurdle (self-inflicted and external) that Fern, Ambrose and Bailey endure. We see them all because Harmon is able to bridge the distance between reality and fiction, beautifully blurring that connection so that we forget these these characters aren’t part of our lives, that they don’t deserve our empathy.
I defy anyone to read Making Faces and not fall instantly in love with the tortured, haunted Ambrose or identify with the awkward, stumbling Fern. I dare you not to want Bailey to get stronger, not want to fight the very big battle life has set before him.
In the end, Making Faces quickly became one of the books I return to when I want to feel the whoosh of emotion felt at first love, the awkward way we’ve all struggled through adolescence. Certainly when I want to remember how precious life is and how important it is to say “I love you” again and again.