Book Review: The Faces of Strangers by Pia Padukone


Two boys. Two completely different countries. One amazing opportunity. It is 2013, Nico, also known as Nicholas, is running for New York City mayor. On election morning, Nico receives a  surprising phone call that could change the course of his life. Flash back to 2002, when Nicholas applies to an exchange student program for his junior year of high school. After being accepted, he is told that he will be living in Tallinn, Estonia, with Paavo and his family for one semester. Then, Paavo will travel to New York to stay with Nicholas’ family for one semester. The two boys, although very different, form a bond that will unite them forever. Their experiences will shape their future in a way that they never thought was possible,

The Faces of Strangers by Pia Padukone is a fascinating book. I usually try not to judge a book by its cover, but this one caught my eye right away. The rainbow of colors are beautiful and bold. Even though I liked the cover of the book right away, I was a little leary about the story line. I don’t usually choose books that are about politics and I rarely find myself reading a book that is set outside of the United States. To be honest, I never heard of Estonia before. Estonia is located in Europe. It is beautiful and surrounded by water. I’m glad I gave The Faces of Strangers a chance. The book hardly spoke about politics and I learned so much about Estonia. I need to continue reading books outside of my comfort zone, I am always pleasantly surprised when I do.

There are quite a few main characters in The Faces of Strangers, not just Paavo and Nico. Both of their families play a huge role in their stories. Nora, Nico’s sister, has a rare disease called prosopagnosia, which is a face recognition disorder. Her story is incredible. I had never heard of this disease before. Paavo’s sister, Mari, is an international model. Paavo’s father, Leo, is Russian. He married Paavo’s mother, who is Estonian. He struggles with his Estonian citizenship, even though he has lived in the country more than half of his life.

I have always been intrigued by exchange students. I was good friends with two in high school. I honestly couldn’t comprehend how hard it was for them until I moved to Korea. Even though I wasn’t an exchange student, I was an adult, I still felt out of place and homesick.  I was surprised that Nico was allowed to drink while he was in Estonia. You’d think there would be program rules about that. Nico’s experience in Estonia was explored more than Paavo’s experience in New York City. I would have liked to read more about how Paavo felt about New York and America in general. I know what it’s like to be a fish out of water in a foreign country, but I don’t know what it’s like to be a fish out of water in America.

The Faces of Strangers is an unique and enjoyable novel. I felt attached to the characters quickly and was sad to see the story come to an end. As for the ending, I was disappointed. I really think there could have been and should have been more to it. With that being said, maybe the author was leaving it open for a follow up novel, something I would definitely want to read. (I know I always have hopes for follow up novels when I am left unsatisfied.)

The Faces of Strangers is Pia Pidukone’s second novel. Her first novel, Where Earth Meet’s Water, is inspired by her real-life experiences. She avoided death at three major horrific events: 9/11, the 2004 Tsunami in the Indian Ocean, and the Boston bombings. You can read more about Pia Pidukone’s two novels and her life experiences here and on her official website.

I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 


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