Wilson Ryder has been horribly disfigured as a child and must find beauty elsewhere as if a means to justify his existence. This novel begins in New Mexico and is told through the eyes of Wilson Ryder, who is five years old when his story begins. He lives with his father and sister, Hannah; his mother walked out on the family when he was younger, and the reader finds out later in the book that she left because she couldn't deal with having been the reason for her son's tragic accident, leaving his face disfigured due to a fire she caused.
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As a young boy, Wilson doesn't realize that his face is repellant to others and hosts a party at his home with his sister's help. All the kids that live on his block got an invitation and all RSVP'd that they'd come. Wilson was told later that the parents felt it was best if all the kids came as one group so that they had each other and didn't have to actually look at Wilson's disfigured face. The party was okay until during one of the games he falls on top of one of the girls and doesn't understand her horrified reaction.
He eventually convinces his father to let him attend school, instead of being homeschooled. This is when he finally dares to look in the mirror in the school's bathroom and then proceeds back to the classroom and paints a fascinating picture. He is young, but the teacher sees that he is very talented. It is as though creating something beautiful was imperative for him.
As it turns out, his mother has always wanted to be a successful artist and left the family to realize her dream. Wilson's father has managed to keep Wilson from finding his mother until he becomes a teenager. Wilson sends his mother, who has gained some notoriety in the art world, some of his work and she gives him some hope and sends him money to go to art school, as well as makes connections for him that he would otherwise be unable to make.
Will's loving father wishes to protect him from a mother who has only caused disappointment in his life and believes she will do so again, while his detached mother believes it is adversity that will bring their son artistic success. Will goes on to risk the relationships he has with his father, sister and eccentric girlfriend in order to gain success in the art world.
Wilson Ryder wants a face that won't repel people, but what he wants more is to have his paintings reach the kind of success that his mother, the woman who abandoned him and his family soon after the tragedy, has had. The reader must decide what, if anything, Wilson Ryder sacrificed by making the decisions he's made. Wilson longs to have a normal face, and even seeks out reconstructive surgeons to see if they can make his appearance more pleasing to others, but in the end the profound art he creates as a man whose definition of beauty has little do with the physical reconnects him to the innocent boy he first glimpsed in a mirror.
Best part of story, including ending:
I liked that the protagonist, Wilson Ryder, was quirky but passionate about beauty, as if obsessed with it.
Best scene in story:
When Wilson's father finds him and loves him unconditionally, even though Wilson walked out on him when he needed him the most. (Wilson's sister had been raped and their father needed to be there for her, as well, which was also a powerful scene.)
Opinion about the main character:
Wilson Ryder had to find himself and make sense of what happened to him as a child and how it defined him as an adult and come to peace with it all.