Autobiography of a Face

Autobiography of a Face

4.5 56
by Lucy Grealy
     
 

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This powerful memoir is about the premium we put on beauty and on a woman's face in particular. It took Lucy Grealy twenty years of living with a distorted self-image and more than thirty reconstructive procedures before she could come to terms with her appearance after childhood cancer and surgery that left her jaw disfigured. As a young girl, she absorbed the

Overview

This powerful memoir is about the premium we put on beauty and on a woman's face in particular. It took Lucy Grealy twenty years of living with a distorted self-image and more than thirty reconstructive procedures before she could come to terms with her appearance after childhood cancer and surgery that left her jaw disfigured. As a young girl, she absorbed the searing pain of peer rejection and the paralyzing fear of never being loved.

Editorial Reviews

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.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Diagnosed at age nine with Ewing's sarcoma, a cancer that severely disfigured her face, Grealy lost half her jaw, recovered after two and half years of chemotherapy and radiation, then underwent plastic surgery over the next 20 years to reconstruct her jaw. This harrowing, lyrical autobiographical memoir, which grew out of an award-winning article published in Harper's in 1993, is a striking meditation on the distorting effects of our culture's preoccupation with physical beauty. Extremely self-conscious and shy, Grealy endured insults and ostracism as a teenager in Spring Valley, N.Y. At Sarah Lawrence College in the mid-1980s, she discovered poetry as a vehicle for her pent-up emotions. During graduate school at the University of Iowa, she had a series of unsatisfying sexual affairs, hoping to prove she was lovable. No longer eligible for medical coverage, she moved to London to take advantage of Britain's socialized medicine, and underwent a 13-hour operation in Scotland. Grealy now lives in New York City. Her discovery that true beauty lies within makes this a wise and healing book. (Sept.)
Library Journal
When Grealy was nine years old, a toothache led to a visit to the dentist, several misdiagnoses, and eventually surgery that removed most of the right side of her jaw. What she had was Ewing Sarcoma, a deadly form of cancer. In this expansion of her award-winning Harper's essay, "Mirrorings," Grealy sensitively recounts the chemotherapy she endured and the more than 30 operations she underwent in an effort to reconstruct her jaw. For Grealy, the tragedy of her situation was not the cancer but the pain of feeling ugly. As a child, she suffered the cruel taunts of classmates and insensitive stares of adults (Halloween was a great liberator with its concealing masks); as a young woman, fearing that no one would love her, she pinned her hopes on the surgeries that would magically fix her disfigured face and her life. 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.-Wilda Williams, ``Library Journal''
Booknews
The author, a poet, writes intimately and lucidly of her experiences growing up with a facial disfigurement, for which she underwent more than 30 reconstructive procedures. No scholarly trappings. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Donna Seaman
Grealy's is a book you want to hand to people saying only, "Read it." Why? Because she has triumphed over something we all fear, the disfigurement of her face. And she writes about her experience with dignity, precision, and wisdom. At age nine, Grealy developed Ewing's sarcoma, a virulent form of cancer with only a five percent survival rate. Stoic, bright, imaginative, and resourceful, Grealy endured almost three years of chemotherapy and, ultimately, nearly 30 operations, many of which were attempts to reconstruct the missing half of her jaw. She not only suffered pain, confinement, fear, and loneliness; she also endured the humiliation of looking strange and alarming and of being perceived as ugly and therefore subjected to the laserlike cruelty of children and the cloddish embarrassment of adults. Given her predicament, those consequences were inevitable. What wasn't inevitable was the strength of Grealy's sense of self and the incredible richness of her inner life. As she describes her heroic efforts to transform her misfortune into a source of revelations about the beauty and mystery of life, we are humbled by her valor and the resiliency of her imagination. 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.
New York Times
“This is a young woman’s first book, the story of her own life, and both book and life are unforgettable.”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780547524122
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
09/27/1994
Sold by:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
223
Sales rank:
87,105
File size:
788 KB

Read an Excerpt

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 on my street), playing war (a known sneak, I was always called upon to be the scout), and in taking dares (I would do just about anything, no matter how ludicrous or dangerous, though I drew the line at eating invertebrates and amphibians). I was accorded a certain amount of respect in my neighborhood, not only because I once jumped out of a secondstory window, but also because I would kiss an old and particularly smelly neighborhood dog on the lips whenever asked. I was a tomboy par excellence.

But when games turned official under the auspices of the Fleetwood Elementary Phys-Ed Department, everything changed. The minutea whistle appeared and boundaries were called, I transformed into a spaz. It all seemed so unfair: I knew in my heart I had great potential, star potential even, but my knowing didn't translate into hitting the ball that was coming my way. I resigned myself early on, even though I knew I could outread, outspell, and outtest the strongest kid in the classroom. And when I was picked practically last for crazy kickball or crab relays, I defeatedly assumed a certain lackadaisical attitude, which partially accounts for my inattention on the day my jaw collided with Joni Friedman's head.

Maybe I was wondering whether Colleen's superiority at dodge ball would be compromised by her all-consuming crush on David Cassidy, or maybe some other social dilemma of prepubescence ruled that days game. I do know that the ball I was going for was mine. I hadn't even bothered to call it, it was so obvious, and though it was also obvious that Joni was going to try to steal it away from me, I stood my ground. The whistle to stop playing began to blow just as the ball came toward us, toward me. I leaned forward and Joni lunged sideways, and suddenly all thoughts about Colleen's social status or Joni's ethics were suddenly and sharply knocked out of me.

I felt the force of our collision in every one of my atoms as I sat, calm and lucid though slightly dazed, on the asphalt. Everyone was running to get on line. I assume Joni asked me how I was, but all I remember is sitting there among the blurred and running legs, rubbing the right side of my jaw, fascinated by how much pain I was in and by how strangely peaceful I felt. It wasn't the sensation of things happening in slow motion, which I had experienced during other minor accidents; it was as if time had mysteriously but logically shifted onto another plane. I felt as if I could speculate and theorize about a thousand different beautiful truths all in the time it would take my lips to form a single word. In retrospect, I think it's possible I had a concussion.

My jaw throbbed. Rubbing it with my hand seemed to have no good or bad effect: the pain was deep and untouchable. Because the pain was genuinely unanticipated, there was no residue of anxiety to alter my experience of it. Anxiety and anticipation, I was to learn, are the essential ingredients in suffering from pain, as opposed to feeling pain pure and simple. This alien ache was probably my first and last experience of unadulterated pain, which perplexed me more than it hurt me.

"Are you all right, dear?"

Interrupted in my twilight, I looked up to see Mrs. Minkin, who was on playground duty that afternoon. She fell into the category of "scary" adults, and from there into the subcategory of adults "with cooties." In her plaid wool skirts and thick makeup, luridly ugly to schoolchildren's eyes, Mrs. Minkin was not someone to whom I was willing to admit distress.

"I'm fine, thank you."

And I was fine: as quickly as it had happened, the sharp ache in my jaw receded and my sense of self transported itself back to the playground. I quickly stood up and brushed myself off The looming issue now was how far back in line I would have to stand because of this bothersome delay. By the time I was back in the classroom I had forgotten the incident entirely.

I was reminded of it again that evening as I sat on the living room rug earnestly trying to whip up a book report I had been putting off for two weeks. Now, to my grave dismay, the report was due the very next day. Gradually I became aware of possible salvation: I had a toothache. This wasn't as welcome a reason for staying home from school as a cold or a fever because it would entail a visit to the dentist. Had it been only a minor toothache I'd probably have preferred to suffer the wrath of my teacher rather than my mother's inevitable agitation, but now that I had noticed the ache it seemed to be worsening steadily.

Meet the Author

LUCY GREALY (1963−2002), an award-winning poet, attended the Iowa Writer's Workshop. She was a fellow at the Bunting Institute of Radcliffe and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and a guest of the Yaddo Corporation. Her article for Harper's, "Mirrorings," on which Autobiography of a Face was based, received the National Magazine Award.

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Autobiography of a Face 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 56 reviews.
Schmutz93 More than 1 year ago
Autobiography of a face is the autobiography of Lucy Grealy, a very talented writer. It tells of her first struggles as a child, all the way to after her college days. It takes you in depth into the hospital world as if you were her, being treated and operated on. She tells of going through school with about a third of her jaw line missing because of cancer. If you thought the kids in your neighborhood were cruel, then prepare yourself for a forceful revelation that you really didn't have it so bad. This book will chew you up and spit you out, but at the end of your journey through Lucy's life, you will somehow feel enlightened and even thankful for everything you have, ad also the things that you don't. So, stop feeling sorry for yourself and pickup this book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is probably one of the best non-fiction book I ever read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book several years ago, and Lucy's story stayed with me. . She is an exceptional writer, and her story is one you simply must read.  On a scale from 1 to 10, her book is a 10.  Buy it, read it, share it when you're done.  You'll be glad you did.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is soo sad But its a real eye opener
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
read this book for school and fell in love with it, i was so in touch with the character and i found myself brought to tears at some parts but love the ending and everything else about the book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My grandmother had cancer and she found out that it did not spread the day i was born so it was emotional for me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good book. Definitely worth reading.
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This is a really good its so intresting
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Really good book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very qood read worth $
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Got this from my parents and I thought it was a very interesting read.
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Blue Mabry More than 1 year ago
Heartwarming and dramatic. This book not only shows the digficulty of lifes obstacles around one person, but if you can breach through those obstacles. It shows one how to experience humility and faith within yourself and i found it being an excellent book to read.
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