At 13, a fire drastically altered Sicily Coyne’s life by not only killing her firefighter father but by completely destroying her face. The blaze happened in the chapel of her school, Holy Angels Catholic School, during choir practice on the last day of classes before Christmas vacation. Sicily happened to be in the last row of the choir's tiered structure, which aided her eventual escape. She also remembered the instructions her father had drilled into her for how to act during a disaster. She stayed calm and kept making choices, which allowed her to find her way to the door while flames leaped around her and the other students ran, shoving into her.
"Sicily is admirably courageous and self-effacing with a sassy, humorous voice, making for a hero readers will empathize with and applaud."
When she finally opened the door, Sicily was helped by her father's co-worker, a firefighter rookie named Renee Mayerling, until she was outside, falling on her face in the snow --- which is probably why her eyes were saved in the mass of burned flesh that was her face. Sicily's father made it outside, too, until he saw one little boy, his hair on fire, standing inside the chapel. He lost his life at age 44 during his heroic attempt to save the child.
Twelve years later, on the fire's anniversary, Sicily's life appears to be in good shape. Sure, her face, which has endured 25 reconstructive surgeries, causes strangers to gasp in horror, and she must take special care of the skin grafted onto her face. She describes her reconstructed face this way: "…my many surgeries had left my face shaped roughly like the face of a snowman, if that snowman had been put together from bits of cheap plastic in slightly different colors. The strange contours had the effect of making it seem that I was wearing some kind of mask…"
But she has a job she is good at and enjoys, as a medical illustrator. She lives in a nice apartment, joined by a kitchen to the apartment of her beloved Aunt Marie, who essentially became her mother after her own died two years after the death of her father. And…wonder of wonders! Sicily has a fiancé, the handsome and affectionate Joey LaVoy. She has known him since childhood; in fact, he was the first classmate she saw after she escaped from the fire. Joey, a Chicago firefighter like Sicily's father, is supportive of Sicily. Together they look forward to a future that includes a house in the suburbs and several children.
The evening of the anniversary, Sicily wants only to escape her memories by sleeping. She has had a long day working with clients for her business and hopes she won't have to deal with any more people. But when the phone rings, she suspects it will be her aunt, calling to make sure she's okay. Instead, it's a call that will eventually ripple throughout her life, changing everything. Sicily doesn't recognize the caller's name at first, although "Eliza Cappadora" sounds familiar (it will also be familiar to readers of Mitchard's previous novel, NO TIME TO WAVE GOODBYE; several characters from that book and THE DEEP END OF THE OCEAN have important roles in this one).
As it turns out, Cappadora is a surgical resident referred to Sicily by one of Sicily's reconstructive surgeons. She calls to offer Sicily the opportunity to consult with her mentor, Dr. Grigsby, a pioneer in a revolutionary full-face transplant surgery. Sicily is taken aback, protesting that she doesn't need a face transplant. She refuses the opportunity, saying she believes she would be taking the place of someone who truly wanted it. But when Sicily's life takes an abrupt detour, she must reconsider her answer. Her decisions now will lead her into territory so uncharted, no one has ever explored it.
As always, author Jacquelyn Mitchard pulls the reader deep into the lives of her characters; Sicily lives and breathes in these pages. That is especially valuable because, in less expert hands, the events and emotions within SECOND NATURE could easily have devolved into a soap opera starring a pitiable main character. However, Sicily is admirably courageous and self-effacing with a sassy, humorous voice, making for a hero readers will empathize with and applaud. Coupled with a brisk pace, intriguing plot, hot but unique romance, and intense suspense, this is a page-turner likely to keep readers up all night. And the payoff at the end is unexpected and perfect.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on September 8, 2011