Summary and book reviews of Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy

Autobiography of a Face

by Lucy Grealy

Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy X
Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy
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  • First Published:
    Sep 1994, 223 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2003, 256 pages

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Book Summary

'Despite its unblinking stare at an excruciatingly painful subject, this is not a dour book. Autobiography of a Face is a book about image, about the tyranny of the image of a beautiful - or even pleasingly average - face. In the end, this tyranny is not so much overthrown as shrugged off.'

I spent five years of my life being treated for cancer, but since then I've spent fifteen years being treated for nothing other than looking different from everyone else. It was the pain from that, from feeling ugly, that I always viewed as the great tragedy of my life. The fact that I had cancer seemed minor in comparison."

At age nine, Lucy Grealy was diagnosed with a potentially terminal cancer. When she returned to school with a third of her jaw removed, she faced the cruel taunts of classmates. In this strikingly candid memoir, Grealy tells her story of great suffering and remarkable strength without sentimentality and with considerable wit. Vividly portraying the pain of peer rejection and the guilty pleasures of wanting to be special, Grealy captures with unique insight what it is like as a child and young adult to be torn between two warring impulses: to feel that more than anything else we want to be loved for who we are, while wishing desperately and secretly to be perfect.

Chapter One
Luck

KER-POW!

I was knocked into the present, the unmistakable now, by Joni Friedman's head as it collided with the right side of my jaw. Up until that moment my body had been running around within the confines of a circle of fourth-grade children gathered for a game of dodge ball, but my mind had been elsewhere. For the most part I was an abysmal athlete, and I was deeply embarrassed whenever I failed to jump bravely and deftly into a whirring jumprope, ever threatening to sting if I miscrossed its invisible boundaries, like some science-fiction force field. Or worse, when I was the weak link yet again in the school relay race. How could one doubt that the order in which one was picked for the softball team was anything but concurrent with the order in which Life would be handing out favors?

Not that I considered myself a weak or easily frightened person; in more casual games I excelled, especially at wrestling (I could beat every boy but one ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Autobiography of a Face has been widely adopted in high school and college curriculums. Do you think that this book would be appropriate for younger audiences -- such as junior high, or sixth graders -- to help them understand the feelings of sick and handicapped kids and to teach them the importance of a kind word?

     
  2. As a child, Lucy lives in three worlds: the hospital, her home, and the outside world. How do the people in each of these environments treat her? How does Lucy respond to them?

     
  3. "We were taken to another floor with a playroom that boasted a large, ornate dollhouse, a real collector's item probably donated by some well-meaning person. You could only look at...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

New York Times Book Review
Despite its unblinking stare at an excruciatingly painful subject, this is not a dour book. Autobiography of a Face is a book about image, about the tyranny of the image of a beautiful - or even pleasingly average - face. In the end, this tyranny is not so much overthrown as shrugged off.

Washington Post Book World
Grealy has turned her misfortune into a book that is engaging and engrossing, a story of grace as well as cruelty.

Kirkus Reviews
A gracefully written account of one woman's physical and spiritual struggle to surmount childhood cancer, permanent disfigurement, and, ultimately, 'the deep bottomless grief...called ugliness.' An unsentimental, honest, unflinching look at a single visage reflected (or distorted) in an unforgiving cultural mirror. A strong debut.

Publishers Weekly
Her discovery that true beauty lies within makes this a wise and healing book.

Library Journal - Wilder Williams
Grealy writes with a poet's lyric grace, but her account of her endless quest for beauty at times becomes repetitious; the most moving part of her memoir comes in her depiction of chemotherapy's agonies and the unintentional cruelty of parents telling their suffering child not to cry. For all collections.

Booklist - Donna Seaman
It's no surprise Grealy is a tremendously powerful writer: she saved her own life by telling herself stories to live by. Now she'll change our lives by sharing them.

Reader Reviews

Jeriah Smith

Autobiography of a face
I'm a freshman in English 1 and our class had to read the book and it's a very true story and every one should read this.

Hiral

Life about Growing up
This is an outstanding memoir of cancer survivor from age 9 through adulthood and how she dealt with her disfigurement after having half her jaw removed. Very well told. Now I need to find Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchet, the epilogue to this story ...   Read More

English Student

Great Book
I am a sophomore English student and we had to read this book for class - I really enjoyed it - it's a book everyone needs to read

Madison Hull

Awesome
This book was one of the best books I've read. Everyone should read this book.

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