Having seen the movie and hearing about the controversy surrounding Mel Gibson playing the title role, I had still never read the book. I saw this copy on a clearance table at Haslam's Bookstore and the 75 cent price appealed to me. It was also somehow fitting that this copy had a scarred front cover.
The story deals with a teen-aged guy in an otherwise all female household who's looking to escape to a boarding school but he's tanked the entrance exams and when the family goes to a coastal town in New England for the summer he ends up enlisting the aid of a mysterious local nicknamed "The Grouch" to aid him in preparing for a retest. The Grouch has horrible facial burns from some nebulous accident in the past and is a bit of a hermit and a misanthrope who prefers the isolation of his cliffside house, his horse and his ferocious dog.
The boy is a loner himself and a bit of a misogynist but he and his reluctant tutor begin to form a band and a friendship. The novel is set firmly in the 70's with the parents suffering from the pop psychology of the time and the kid thinking in terms such as "ratfink" but otherwise the story is pretty timeless.
Though a loner, the kid is charming and we grow to like and understand him through the course of the tale. As we learn more about Justin, the man without a face, we also understand him. Given the era in which it was written the climactic scenes of the story are necessarily a little vague and much of what Gibson was criticized for was really the same in the book.
As it is, this is an interesting and compelling coming of age story, and perhaps a coming-out story though that's far from clear. Either way, it is a worthwhile read.