The Truth About Elyssa
by Lorna Michaels
(Silh. Int. Mom. #1122, $4.50, PG) ISBN 0-373-27192-1
Unfortunately, the truth about Elyssa is that we start out thinking she’s going to climb mountains and end up watching her stumble over molehills.

A former television reporter, Elyssa Jarmon was seriously injured in a car wreck that killed investigative reporter Randy Barber. In a coma for two weeks, she awoke to discover that her face had been damaged. With her looks no longer “flawless” she lost her job and her boyfriend.

Career and love life over, Elyssa started her own business. As Lulu the Clown she now works birthday parties and volunteers at the local hospital, entertaining young cancer patients. There, she - or rather, Lulu - meets Dr. Brett Cameron, head of pediatric oncology.

Brett decided to become a doctor when he lost a childhood friend to leukemia. Tragedy struck again when his wife died losing their baby while he was at work. Naturally, he can never love again, so he limits his social life to superficial affairs. He remembers Elyssa from her on-air days, though; he used to watch her reports and fantasize about having sex with her. Now that he’s met her - or rather, Lulu - he’d really like to go out with her.

A mystery is added to the mix when Elyssa, who remembers nothing about the accident that injured her, begins to believe that Randy was actually murdered over a story he was writing. She starts an inquiry of her own and somebody isn’t happy about it.

My problems started early. Initially we are lead to think that Elyssa’s facial injuries are catastrophic. The last sentence of the prologue ominously intones: “They waited another week before they told her about her face.” Then, a chapter later, we find out that “her nose was just a tad crooked and only a crisscross of tiny scars marred her cheek.” Elyssa hasn’t surfaced from her pity party long enough to notice that there are lots of people with imperfect faces on TV and that men fall in love with non-flawless women all the time. Most of them just aren’t the shallow hunks she’s dated in the past. Hmm, who’s the superficial one here?

Believing that these tiny scars are the end of both her professional and emotional lives, however, I was astonished to discover that she never sought a second opinion when the first plastic surgeon told her he could do no more.

We also find that she was, in fact, not fired from her job, but offered another one as news director of a radio station. Insulted, she turned the promotion down. Oh. Apparently, television was more important than journalism. Except, even after she healed, she never tried for another TV job, either.

She just gave up and slapped on the clown makeup.

For a month, she meets with Brett twice a week but refuses to let him see her without her Lulu face on. Her scars will revolt him and, besides, he must have a beautiful wife to take to fundraisers so there can be nothing between them. Elyssa generously decides all this on Brett’s behalf without consulting him.

During their meetings, Brett finds himself more and more drawn to… whom? Elyssa? Lulu? While I wanted to applaud him for his ability to see past the surface, there’s just something weird about him lusting after a clown and thinking that she “smells like sex” after entertaining children for an hour. That, combined with the celebrity sex fantasies, really had me giving this guy the hairy eyeball. Just who was he attracted to, and why?

The mystery plot could have had some surprises in it, except they were all telegraphed ahead of time. Elyssa isn’t really much of an investigative reporter, and by the time she figured everything out I’d already mentally changed channels.

Although Ms. Michaels’ prose moves along nicely, I couldn’t help feeling that she wasn’t paying attention to the cumulative picture she was painting. Next to children with cancer Elyssa’s clichéd motivations and excessive angst over a couple of faint scars make her look self-absorbed rather than admirable. On the road of life, Elyssa’s problems are speed bumps - many people negotiate them without fuss every day.

--Judi McKee

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