Faces of Fear

by Monica Hughes,
ISBN: 0002245604

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Children`s Books
by Katherine Matthews

In The Faces of Fear, Joan Sandow uses her computer to escape the confinements of her wheelchair. Using the alias "Joanna", she connects with Whizkid (aka Steve Andersen) in a computer chat room.

Both these teens are dealing with pressures: Joan, to adjust to life as a paraplegic; Steve, to succeed at school or baseball. The common need for self-determination unknowingly unites them. They join forces to test a new virtual reality game from Joan's father's company, but unbeknownst to either of them, the game contains traps set out by its designer, Jason Bedard, a hot-shot computer geek who holds a grudge against Joan. Whizkid and Joanna learn that they must draw on the strengths of Steve and Joan in order to successfully survive the game.

Monica Hughes is no stranger to alternate worlds, although typically she sets these worlds on other planets or in other times. It is no surprise, then, to find her exploring the world of virtual reality, and it is when Whizkid and Joanna enter the game that Hughes is at her most successful. The game is intriguing and fast-paced, with enough thrills and challenge to keep both players, as well as the reader, engaged.

Characterization and character development, however, are weak. Joan tends to be a bit of a one-note; the reader may feel some sympathy for Joan and her challenges, but she rarely engages us emotionally. Jason is overdrawn, and the ending, in which he has a sudden change of heart, is far too pat to be believable.

Despite this, Hughes is a skilled enough writer to keep us interested. In The Faces of Fear, as the two protagonists learn about themselves through the game, so does the reader learn the importance of facing fear and remaining true to oneself. 

Katherine Matthews is a Toronto writer.


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