“The Girl Without a
Face” – a figure skating novel
Figure skating is a glamorous sport that tells amazing
stories. However, most skating books are non-fiction such as biographies or
autobiographies on/from stars such as Aljona Savchenko or Adam Rippon. Only few
authors write fiction about skating, which is actually a bit surprising.
American Randall Hicks, a long-time skating fan and an accomplished lawyer
specialized in adoption law, who has published several non-fiction books and
also novels, and his daughter Hailey now have written the novel „The Girl
Without a Face“.
Katie Wilder is 15 years old and one of the most talented
figure skaters in the world. She not only has a triple Axel, but also a quad
Lutz in her arsenal. However, nobody has ever heard of her. She lives alone
with her father David, a former well-known and successful top-level coach, in
the old and secluded figure skating center of Lake Arrowhead, California. David
once was ousted from the skating world, because a student accused him of having
an affair with her. Since then he has been teaching a few local beginners - and
put all his coaching skills into his daughter. Unfortunately, Katie suffered
terrible burns to her face in a car accident when she was three years old and
is so disfigured that she wears a masks on the rare occasions she meets other people.
So she never even thought about competing.
When David’s former student admits that she had lied
about the affair, Katie’s whole world changes drastically and fast. The top US
pairs team Melissa Cake and Alexander Piezov (nicknamed “Piece of Cake”) comes
to Lake Arrowhead to be coached by David. Katie, whose only friend was the ice
until then, is fascinated and scared at the same time. But she opens up and the
pair skaters become her first real friends. Finally, Katie feels encouraged to
face the world and to start competing. She makes it to the Olympic Games, where
not everything goes as hoped …
The story is well researched and is authentic, even though
for dramaturgical purposes not everything is as in “real life”. But it’s a
novel, after all and not a competition report. Katie, her dad, the other
skaters and people come across as realistic and likeable. There are some
clichés such as Alex Piezov’s father, a rough Russian ice hockey player, who
does not appreciate that his son chose figure skating over hockey. Even some
existing persons such as coach Tom Zakrajsek and Tara Lipinski figure in the story.
Zakrajsek supported the authors in their research that took about a year.
Katie tells the story herself from her perspective with some
irony. Hicks asked his 26-year-old daughter to join the project in order create
an authentic character. In some places Katie comes across as somewhat
precocious, but then she is not a normal 15-year-old. The book is an enjoyable
read, well written and captivating. Since figure skating is associated with
beauty more than any other sport, the concept of the talented but terribly
disfigured skater is very unusual and interesting.
“When I had the initial idea for the book, the challenge
was presenting the sport from the unique perspective of the protagonist, an
elite skater so an insider in that regard, but as a person, a complete
outsider. I also wanted a truly empowering story, about a girl facing more
challenges than most of us can imagine, but rising through those challenges.
And along the way we laugh with her, cry with her, and cheer for her,” Randall
Hicks said about the book.
This is very “American” in the eyes of Europeans – to fight
your way through, to overcome obstacles and setbacks to realize your dreams in
the end. The book has a strong message that sometimes could have been brought across
a bit more subtle, but it is no way preaching. There are several touching
moments in the book, especially when Katie competes at the US Championships and
when she has enough trust to take off her mask in front of her friends.
Authenticity was something that was very important to the
authors, as they stressed.
“There are many great bios by figure
skaters, and plenty of terrific non-fiction books about the sport, but are
there any amazingly entertaining novels set in the world of figure skating? No.
So that was my goal. I wanted to write the most entertaining and authentic-feeling
book possible,” Randall Hicks explained. “So one of the ways we accomplished
that was to do something virtually never done in novels: we put real-life
people into the story, interacting with Katie. She crosses paths with some of
the biggest names in the skating world, from Tara Lipinski to Scott Hamilton to
Adam Rippon. And when she is interviewed by the media, it is by actual figure
skating journalists whose names figure skating fans will recognize,” he said.
“The other big challenge was
the desire to touch people and make them think about how they treat and see others.
In other words, I wanted to write a book that made a difference in the world,
as lofty as that sounds. But the book had to stay fun, fast-moving and
entertaining, never preachy. So this is an area where Hailey was so helpful.
With her help, Katie Wilder became a real person with a mind of her own,” Hicks
concluded. (read the full interview with Randall and Hailey on our website).
To sum it up, „The Girl Without a Face“ is a treat and
entertaining not only for figure skating fans. The story is fun to read,
interesting, touching, but not kitschy. A great read, especially now in the off
season when you miss figure skating a lot.
Randall und Hailey Hicks: The Girl Without a Face, Wordslinger
Press, 368 pages, available as an E-Book and as paperback, ISBN 978-0983942573, for example on Amazon.