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Clayton Adams
The Mask
He was born that way. Few would forgive his appearance. Fear and revulsion, even rage, were not unfamiliar to him. The villagers, but for one small child, have not been kind. The forest, his home, was not only a sanctuary, ironically, it also became his prison. One day, the forest offered him something more. What he found both chilled and excited him. It was a discovery that would change his life forever.
Adams leaves a legacy in this short, inventive, and anguished story, which mirrors the late author’s own devastatingly short life and in the end offers a glimmer of hope. Mil, a skilled sculptor who was abandoned in the woods as a child, is shunned and ridiculed by local villagers because of his disfigured face. He’s the prime target for a classic Faustian bargain: as he treks through the woods one day, he happens upon a mask that offers him a deal—become beautiful in exchange for a promise to perform a task that will be revealed later. If Mil does not complete the task, the mask will be destroyed, and he will revert to his “present form—a freak.” Will Mil take the deal, and, if he does, will he pay the price?

Reminiscent of Hans Christian Andersen's original fairy tales, where children often live and work (and face weird horror) independently, this middle-grade fable manages to confront the very real cruelties and choices children have faced throughout time—such as bullying and whether to conform or stand out—without ever coming across as too grisly. However, while this is a tale and message as old as time, instead of ending on a happy and comfortable note like many modern and contemporary works, Adams closes with a provocative cliffhanger, sending the true but uncomfortable message that you never can know how others might react to your true self, but that it’s urgent to risk it anyway.

This brief but substantial story is heightened by effective and affecting prose (“Mil felt suddenly unclean in the presence of the mask. It was alive.:”) as well as Rohan Daniel Eason's eye-catching, evocative illustrations, often reminiscent in their spareness and line work of classic woodcuts. Adams’s family has done his work proud with this illustrated edition, and Adams deserves posthumous praise for capturing a timeless message with singular power.

Takeaway: Fans of vintage, creepy fairy tales will find more than a moral in this short but moving story.

Great for fans of: Hans Christian Andersen, Sally Gardner’s Tinder.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A